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New York (AFP) - New York state accused the billionaire Sackler family on Thursday of attempting to shield money from their company, Purdue Pharma, to avoid damage payments from lawsuits over the opioid Oxycontin.
"As the lawsuits have piled up against Purdue, they continued to move funds into trust and yes, offshore accounts, to be out of reach of potential recovery," New York Attorney General Letitia James told reporters.
Purdue became a dominant force in the pharmaceutical industry largely due to the blockbuster painkiller OxyContin, the highly addictive drug now subject to more than 1,000 lawsuits over its role in the opioid crisis.
The Connecticut-based company has denied the claims.
"Such serious allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the state fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims," it said in a statement.
"Instead, the state is seeking to publicly vilify Purdue and its former directors while unfairly undermining the important work we have taken to address the opioid crisis."
Purdue insisted that OxyContin -- a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug prescribed by doctors and dispensed by pharmacists -- only accounts for less than two percent of total opioid prescriptions.
The lawsuit filed in New York on Thursday by James expands on one already brought against Pharma and other pharmaceutical giants such as Johnson and Johnson in the state.
"The opioid epidemic has ravaged families and communities across New York," James said in a statement.
"We found that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in years of deceptive marketing about the risks of opioids and failed to exercise their basic duty to report suspicious behavior, leading to the crisis we are living with today.
"As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers' health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill," she said.
"The manufacturers and distributors of opioids are to blame for this crisis and it is past time they take responsibility."
Purdue Pharma, based in Connecticut, released OxyContin in 1995 and the powerful drug reportedly has generated more than $30 billion in revenue.
In 2017, 70,000 people died of overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That same year, 1.7 million people were suffering from addiction to painkillers like OxyContin.
Purdue Pharma reached a $270 million settlement earlier this week in a lawsuit in the state of Oklahoma, but the company faces hundreds of other suits besides the ones in New York.
The bulk of the settlement money will go toward establishing an addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University.
The Sacklers have been high-profile philanthropists but museums and galleries have recently been rebuffing their donations because of the opioid crisis fallout.