Law & the Courts

OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges, Acknowledges Role in Opioid Crisis

(George Frey/Reuters)

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty Tuesday to three criminal charges, formally acknowledging its role in the opioid epidemic that has plagued the U.S. over the past two decades and contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans.

The drugmaker, in a virtual hearing with a federal judge in Newark, N.J., admitted to obstructing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts to fight the opioid addiction crisis and confessed that it had not carried out an effective program to prevent prescription drugs from landing on the black market, though it had previously told the DEA it had such a program, according to the Associated Press. Purdue also admitted it had proffered misleading information to the agency in order to bolster company manufacturing quotas and that it has paid doctors via a speakers program to persuade them to write more prescriptions for its painkillers.

The guilty pleas, entered by Purdue board chairperson Steve Miller on the company’s behalf, come as part of a criminal and civil settlement announced last month between the drugmaker and the Justice Department that includes $8.3 billion in penalties and forfeitures, though the company will pay just $225 million in a direct payment to the federal government as long as it follows through on a settlement moving through federal bankruptcy court with state and local governments and other groups suing it over the opioid crisis.

The Sackler family, which owns the company, has also agreed to pay $225 million to the federal government to settle civil claims. Though no criminal charges have been filed against any of the Sacklers, their deal does not rule out the possibility of future charges. 

Attorneys general for roughly half the states opposed the federal settlement and Purdue’s proposed settlement in bankruptcy court, which would see the company turned into a public benefit corporation with its proceeds used to help combat the opioid crisis.

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