Problems with OxyContin

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 31st of January, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: fighting the opioid crisis with an aggressive new tactic.

Purdue Pharma started selling OxyContin in 1996. It was the first time-released narcotic, meaning each pill contains more of the painkiller but releases it slowly into the body.

The company said OxyContin was less likely to cause dependence because patients would need fewer doses.

But it also provided a more intense high when it’s abused. After a few years on the market, OxyContin became one of the first opioids to spark the addiction epidemic.

REICHARD: Purdue Pharma representatives pushed doctors to prescribe higher doses, and they downplayed the risks. That aggressive marketing continued, even after the company began getting reports of more and more people dying from overdoses.

A federal investigation led to criminal charges against three of Purdue’s top executives in 2007. They admitted to lying to the public about the risks of taking OxyContin. The company paid more than $600 million in fines.

EICHER: Now prosecutors in Massachusetts are pursuing a different sort of legal tactic against Purdue. And WORLD reporter Charissa Crotts is here to talk about it. Good morning, Charissa.


EICHER: Well, tell me, why is this particular prosecution against Purdue Pharma such big news?

CROTTS: Well, because it’s personal.

The state’s targeting the family that owns Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family.

As you mentioned, Purdue’s already paid millions in settlements to state and federal governments. But this Massachusetts case is the first one to target owners themselves, and try to hold them personally accountable.

EICHER: Well tell me a bit about this family, the Sackler family.

CROTTS: Yes, they’re among the wealthiest families in the United States.

They’re leading philanthropists. They’re really known for donating to museums and medical schools, so they’ve donated to the Smithsonian, the Harvard Art Museum. They actually have wings in those museums named after them. And their fortune is mainly from Purdue Pharma.

EICHER: Well, this seems pretty remarkable, Charissa, going after the individual family members in a case like this.

CROTTS: Yeah, it is. And the evidence suggests that the Sacklers aren’t exactly hands-off owners. The documents show that they were personally involved in their company’s deception.

EICHER: Well, in what way, Charissa, were they involved in the company’s deception?

CROTTS: Well, looking at the documents, there are allegations that the family members kind of directed the aggressive marketing of OxyContin. They also didn’t report to the government what they knew of how the drug was being abused and the deaths that were resulting.

And the documents also allege that the Sacklers instructed the company to shift the blame for the opioid crisis onto the people who were addicted.

EICHER: And so what is the specific charge that the state is pursuing here, that Massachusetts is going after?

CROTTS: Yeah, the state prosecutors want a jury to find the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma guilty of these charges: public nuisance, negligence, and unfair and deceptive acts and practices.

So, this is pretty serious. If the jury goes along, it could mean damages and fees. But also mean the money that was gained through those deceptive acts is returned.

EICHER: Alright. Charissa Crotts is a reporter for WORLD. Charissa, thank you.

CROTTS: Thank you.

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File) In this Aug. 17, 2018, file photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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