Law & the Courts

Purdue Pharma Will Plead Guilty to Federal Charges Stemming from Opioid Crisis, Pay $8 Billion Settlement

A pharmacist holds 40mg pills of OxyContin, made by Purdue Pharma. (George Frey/Reuters)

Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, has agreed to plead guilty to three federal criminal charges in an $8 billion settlement related to their role in the opioid crisis, Justice Department officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

The settlement is the strongest effort to date by the Justice Department to hold a major drugmaker accountable for the opioid crisis in the U.S. Opioid overdoses have caused roughly 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000, as prescription painkillers including Oxycontin and fentanyl have flooded the U.S. market. The crisis is ongoing, with opioid overdose deaths topping 50,000 in 2019 and additional deaths coming in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Purdue will admit to reporting misleading information to the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to increase production of Oxycontin. The company will also admit to falsely portraying the efficacy of its efforts to avoid “drug diversion,” or any process by which a medication is transferred from the intended patient towards illegal use.

The Sackler family, whose members own Purdue, will not be exempt from criminal liabilities as part of the plea deal. A 2019 court filing reviewed by the AP stated that the family made $13 billion off sales of Oxycontin, although a lawyer for the family have claimed the actual revenue was far less after taxes.

As part of the plea deal, the Sacklers would eventually leave Purdue and the drugmaker would be transformed into a public benefit company, operated by a trust that would balance needs of the company against those of American consumers.

In addition to the Justice Department, almost every U.S. state, as well as local governments and Native American tribes, have brought lawsuits against drug distributors and manufacturers including McKessen, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health and Teva. The ongoing litigation is extremely complex, and negotiations and other settlements have been delayed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.