Richard Sackler and other members of his family are accused of directing their pharmaceutical firm Purdue Pharma to mislead doctors and patients about the dangers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin produced by the company.
The Massachusetts attorney general on Tuesday filed internal company communications that provide the first evidence that the Sacklers made company decisions to aggressively market OxyContin even though it is highly addictive, The New York Times reported.
Richard Sackler, a former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma and son of the company founder, Raymond, in a 2001 email advised blaming the people who had become addicted to the drug, according to the filing.
“We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” Sackler wrote when he was president of the company. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in June sued eight members of the Sackler family and others alleging that they had misled doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risks. The Sacklers are among the richest families in the United States, with much of their wealth derived from sales of OxyContin, The Times reported.
The filing also alleges that Richard Sackler, who is Jewish, urged sales representatives to advise doctors to prescribe the highest dosage of OxyContin because it was the most profitable.
More than 200,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses involving prescription opioids, and Purdue Pharma has been the target of numerous lawsuits. In 2007, the company and three of its top executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that Purdue had misrepresented the dangers of OxyContin, and they paid $634.5 million in fines, but the Sacklers were not accused of personal wrongdoing.
The company has downplayed the Sacklers’ involvement in the operations of the company. But emails as late as 2012 complain about Richard Sackler’s micromanagement of the company’s sales and marketing activities, according to The Times.