Deep into the third hour of testimony in federal bankruptcy court by Dr. Richard Sackler, a former president and co-chair of the board of directors of Purdue Pharma, a prescription opioid manufacturer founded by relatives of Sackler, asked a lawyer a series of questions:
“Do you have any responsibility for the opioid crisis in the United States?”
“No,” replied Dr. Sackler, 76, feeble.
“Does the Sackler Family Have Any Responsibility for the Opioid Crisis in the United States?”
“Does Purdue Pharma Have Any Responsibility for the Opioid Crisis in the United States?”
dr. Sackler, arguably the most famous among billionaire Sacklers, who for nearly 20 years was the family member most prominently in the company’s rollout of its signature prescription pain reliever, OxyContin, appeared on a rare, lengthy video conference Wednesday. before a judge who presided over the hearing for a plan that would restructure Purdue and settle all lawsuits against the company and family members for their roles in the opioid epidemic.
It is believed to be the first time Dr. Sackler answered questions in an open courtroom about the family’s opioid trade. As with a comprehensive statement he made to Kentucky attorneys in 2015, Dr. Sackler gives his legal team a testimony that was largely filled with vague or absent memories, succinct statements, and distractions.
His voice was often barely audible, he apologized for having laryngitis and seemed to occasionally fiddle with the technology, presenting annoying challenges in volume level and in opening documents emailed to him as he testified.
Nevertheless, while he offered no new insights into what is already known about the roles of Sackler’s family members in the company, his appearance stood out for what he refused to acknowledge.
dr. Sackler was summoned to appear for questioning by attorneys from states opposed to the plan, in part because they believe that in exchange for paying $4.5 billion, the Sacklers will receive legal protections that are too broad.
In a biting back and forth, Dr. Sackler that he didn’t know how many Americans had died from OxyContin. “You didn’t feel it necessary in your role as chairman or president of an opioid company to determine how many people had died as a result of using that product?” asked Brian Edmunds, an assistant attorney general of Maryland.
“To the best of my knowledge, that data is not available,” replied Dr. sackler.
dr. Sackler – who trained as an internist but pursued a career as a pharmaceutical director for the Stamford, Conn. established company, originally partly overseen by his father, Dr. Raymond Sackler – Known for throwing himself into Purdue’s operations. In a testimony on Wednesday, Dr. Sackler that he along with a Purdue representative drove on phone calls to doctors to increase sales. The sales force eventually came to focus on doctors who tended to prescribe higher doses, said Dr. sackler. He acknowledged that a higher dose of opioids could lead to more profit for the company.
During his tenure, Purdue twice pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to marketing and sales of OxyContin and struck a deal for a settlement with Kentucky.
Lawsuits against the Sacklers and Purdue have cited numerous emails written by Dr. Sackler, including one from 2001, cited in a Massachusetts complaint. “We must hammer at abusers in every possible way,” he wrote. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
In 2019, the Sackler family contributed $75 million to Oklahoma as part of a larger settlement between the state and Purdue. In that case, as in a 2020 federal civil settlement with the Sacklers, family members did not admit wrongdoing.
“I can’t count all the settlements,” said Dr. sackler. “There were many settlements, both private and public.”
The attorneys from Maryland, Washington State, and Connecticut apparently tried to take such shards out and put them back together, arguing that the Sacklers were deeply involved in Purdue’s cases.
The settlement agreement negotiated by Purdue and the Sacklers with states, tribes, local governments and other plaintiffs would not only settle the lawsuits, but also grant the company immunity from future civil legal claims, a condition usually granted to companies arising from a restructuring of bankruptcies.
But this plan would also give a similar shield to the Sacklers, who have not filed for bankruptcy. The issue of such extensive legal protections for the Sacklers is what has caused many of the remaining objections to the plan.
If the plan is upheld by Judge Robert Drain of the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in White Plains, as expected, the Sacklers cannot be pursued by those who object to the plan, let alone any prospective litigants. for any Purdue related matters.
And that ban isn’t just limited to opioid-related cases. Benjamin Higgins, an attorney for the US Trustee Program, a division of the Department of Justice that tracks bankruptcies, noted that Purdue, for example, had introduced a long-acting stimulant drug in recent years to address symptoms of attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity, and that if there are lawsuits would be considered in connection with that drug, the Sacklers would also be immunized against it.
dr. Sackler said he was not very familiar with the details of the extensive lawsuit releases that are at the heart of Purdue’s bankruptcy plan.
“It’s an extremely dense document,” said Dr. sackler. “I read a few pages and realized it would take me a lot of time.”
Under the complex structure of Sackler’s payments to a national opioid control trust, the contributions will be funded in part by what is expected to be sales from the family’s various pharmaceutical companies worldwide.
“Will you personally contribute some of your equity to the settlement payments over the next nine or ten years?” dr. Sackler was asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t believe that has been decided yet.”