Purdue Pharma and Sackler Family Facing Legal Action for Opioid Epidemic

Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma is attempting to distance itself from its role in the opioid epidemic by urging a Massachusetts judge to dismiss a lawsuit related to the company’s deceptive marketing tactics.

The state’s case alleges that Purdue, members of the Sackler family (who control the company), and executives and board members endorsed misleading marking practices which began the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, a notion that the company’s lawyer, Timothy Blank, argues is “a serious misperception.”

This is just one of nearly 2,000 lawsuits seeking to assign responsibility for the opioid epidemic that are currently consolidated into a multidistrict litigation in federal court in Ohio. However, the Massachusetts case differs in that it focuses solely on Purdue, its owners, and its executives, rather than the other manufacturers, wholesalers, and pharmacies that have played a role in the epidemic. It also is the first state to name the Sackler family as defendants, a strategy that is being employed with other cases, like one recently filed in the Supreme Court by the state of Arizona.

By arguing for dismissal of the case against Purdue and the Sacklers in Massachusetts, lawyers are questioning the assertion that company executives can be charged in any one state’s lawsuit when the company operates nationally.

The state claims that these executives and family members approved decisions that directly affected Massachusetts, allowing the state to include them in the suit. But attorney Gregory Joseph, who is representing 13 former Purdue board members, including eight Sackler family members, argues there is no evidence to support this claim. “The board never met here, they never directed marketing at Massachusetts … there’s no here here,” Mr. Joseph said.

Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Jenny Wojewoda argues that the family’s involvement in selecting board members makes them all legitimate defendants. “This is no ordinary board … Purdue is essentially a very large, very profitable family business,” she said.

Sources: The New York Times, July 31, 2019; STAT, August 2, 2019.