OxyContin maker Purdue admits role in opioid crisis after pleading guilty to criminal charges

Graig Graziosi
<p>Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, will pay $8bn in a plea deal with the US Justice Department</p> (REUTERS)

Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, will pay $8bn in a plea deal with the US Justice Department


Purdue Pharma, maker of the drug OxyContin, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to three criminal charges related to its role in the opioid epidemic. The plea is a formal admission of the company's role in the health crisis.

The company acknowledged that it impeded the US Drug Enforcement Administration's efforts to fight the crisis and that it had failed to maintain an effective program for preventing prescription drugs from being siphoned off and sold on the black market.

The company also admitted to paying doctors through a speaking program in exchange for them writing more prescriptions for painkillers.

Purdue is facing financial penalties of $8.3billion, but the company only has to make a $225million direct payment to the government, assuming it executes a settlement with state and local governments, as well as other entities, that are suing the company.

That case is currently in federal bankruptcy court and would turn Purdue Pharma into a public benefit corporation whose earnings would be used to address the opioid crisis.

Members of the Sackler family, who own the company, have also agreed to pay $225m to the federal government to settle civil suits brought against them. No criminal charges have been filed against the family members.

Critics of the ruling say the penalties for Purdue Pharma are not steep enough, and that the Sacklers should face more severe punishment.

More than 470,000 people have died over the past 20 years from overdoses, which primarily came from the abuse of legal or use of illicit opioids.

Attorneys general for nearly half the states involved opposed both the federal settlement, and the settlement the company aims to make in bankruptcy court.

Activists and some attorneys general have called for greater punishment for the Sacklers, claiming there is no difference between the actions of the company and the actions of its owners.

The Sacklers will control more wealth than the majority of Americans even after they pay their penalties. Forbes estimated the family had a combined net worth of $13bn in 2016.

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