Politics & Policy

Emails Reveal the Sackler Family Was Directly Involved in Aggressively Marketing Dangerous Opioids


Members of the Sackler family, which founded and owns a controlling stake in Purdue Pharma, were directly involved in aggressively marketing OxyContin, a powerful opiate painkiller that enriched the family while helping spark a nationwide epidemic of crippling addiction and death by overdose.

Emails released Tuesday as part of a complaint filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue Pharma, eight members of the Sackler family, and other board members, reveal that members of the family urged employees to ensure the drug was being prescribed at an increasing rate well after its addictive properties became clear.

“I had hoped for better results,” board member and former president Richard Sackler wrote in a 2011 email after receiving a report that showed the last week’s prescriptions had dramatically outpaced forecasts. “What else more can we do to energize the sales and grow at a faster rate?” he added after viewing another report.

Massachusetts is just one of at least 36 states suing Purdue on the grounds that its marketing campaigns, which cast OxyContin as safe for prolonged use, helped mislead Americans and create the current public health crisis.

Court documents make clear that Richard Sackler and other family members involved in the business were informed of OxyContin’s addictive properties but it did not change their behavior. In 2011, four years after Purdue was forced to pay $600 million in fines for misleading consumers, Richard Sackler opposed the use of warning labels on OxyContin packaging.

“Richard argued to the Vice President of Sales that a legally required warning about Purdue’s opioids wasn’t needed. He asserted that the warning ‘implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren’t there.’ Richard insisted there should be ‘less threatening’ ways to describe Purdue opioids,” the complaint states.

After learning that 59 people died from OxyContin overdoses in one state in 2001, Richard Sackler was pleased.

“This is not too bad. It could have been far worse,” he said in an email, according to the complaint.

Later that year, in another email, he advocated placing the blame for addiction on addicts themselves. “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”

The Sackler family, which is ranked by Forbes as the 19th richest family in America at a net worth of $13 billion, gives generously to the arts and sciences. They have refused to publicly address their role in the opioid crisis, which claims the lives of more than 100 Americans each day.

Purdue Pharma said the legal complaint “irresponsibly and counterproductively casts every prescription of OxyContin as dangerous and illegitimate.”

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