New York City amended its opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals to include the company’s owners, the Sackler family, as well as several retailers and pharmacy chains, including CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart. The lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of OxyContin, deceptively marketed their addictive drugs under the direction of their owners, the Sackler family, and the retailers who dispensed the drugs enabled the opioid epidemic currently ravaging communities across the country. In addition to increasing the number of defendants allegedly responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic, the lawsuit also consolidated dozens of lawsuits filed by other local governments.
The consolidation of lawsuits and inclusion of the popular drugstores was widely expected, the group of defendants is being sued by local governments across the country and by the federal government. The inclusion of the Sackler family, on the other hand, was a recent development in the opioid cases. According to The New York Times, a lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts unearthed emails showing members of the Sackler family were “far more involved” than previously believed. According to the lawsuits against the company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals deceptively marketed Oxycontin, a powerful and addictive opioid, as appropriate for long-term pain management and claiming, without evidence, that “less than one percent of [Oxycontin users] become addicted.” The aggressive promotion of Oxycontin led to $1 billion in annual sales within a few years and is now widely understood to have ignited the country’s opioid epidemic.
Previously, the Sackler family was viewed as passive owners who were uninvolved in the company’s operations. The evidence released in Massachusetts paints a very different picture. In one email, Richard Sackler said that “[Purdue Pharmaceuticals] has to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” After learning that Oxycontin killed 59 people in his state alone during 2001 – when Oxycontin was still marketed as a non-addictive form of pain management – Richard Sackler wrote to company officials, “This is not too bad. It could have been far worse.” The Sackler family are famously philanthropic with their billions and colleges, art institutions, and nonprofits across the country are currently grappling with the fallout of their ties to the now-disgraced family.
The lawsuit’s recent inclusion of popular pharmacy chains alleges these companies knew doctors were illegally prescribing OxyContin and patients were illegally obtaining the drug. According to the lawsuit, the pharmacy chains turned a blind eye to clear evidence of a burgeoning epidemic and dispensed the medication anyway. Pharmaceutical companies are required to track and report narcotic prescriptions and must report any suspicious orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency. In a similar lawsuit unfolding in Ohio, one drug manufacturer shipped three million opioids to a single pharmacy in West Virginia. The pharmacy is located in a town with only 400 residents. As the 1,600 lawsuits across the country continue to unfold throughout 2019, Americans are likely to hear more stories of the numerous companies who chose profit over following the law.