Sacklers Deny Personal Responsibility for Opioid Epidemic in House Hearing


Members of Congress on Thursday hurled withering comments and furious questions at two members of the billionaire Sackler family that owns Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, seeking to use a rare public appearance to extract admissions of personal responsibility for the deadly opioid epidemic as well as details about $10 billion that records show the family withdrew from the company.

The hearing, before the House Oversight Committee, offered a highly unusual opportunity for the public to hear directly from some members of the family, whose company is a defendant in thousands of federal and state lawsuits for misleading marketing of OxyContin, the painkiller seen as initiating a wave of opioid addiction that has led to the deaths of more than 450,000 Americans. Eight members of the family have been individually named in many state cases.

The singularity of the Sacklers’ appearance on Thursday was underscored by the likelihood that they may never testify in open court, because the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings and nationwide litigation may resolve in settlements rather than trials. Despite millions of dollars in legal expenses racked up by plaintiffs and Purdue alike — and the company’s subsequent filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2019 — one obstacle to resolution persists: the refusal of the Sacklers to be held personally or criminally responsible and to turn over substantial portions of their fortune.

During the tense, nearly four-hour hearing, David Sackler, 40, and his cousin, Dr. Kathe Sackler, 72, who both served on the company’s board for years, testified remotely and largely sidestepped would-be booby traps and deflected blame to “management” and independent, nonfamily board members.

Or, as Mr. Sackler said, “That’s a question for the lawyers.”

Repeatedly, the committee members pitted hard statistics about the destruction from the epidemic against images of the family’s concurrent gains, including a $22.5 million mansion in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, paid for in cash in 2018 — which David Sackler characterized as a trust investment in which he had not spent a single night.

Throughout the session, both Sacklers voiced regret for the role of OxyContin in the epidemic, but not for their own actions during the years that the company, with the board’s oversight and encouragement, aggressively promoted the painkiller.

Indeed, Dr. Sackler cast herself as scrupulously concerned about the well-being of patients. “I thought Purdue was acting responsibly to reduce the incidence of abuse and overdose while still serving those in need of pain relief,” she said.

“I have tried to figure out, was there anything that I could have done differently? Knowing what I knew then — not what I know now?” said Dr. Sackler, who served on the board from 1990 to 2018. “There’s nothing that I can…



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