Sackler family faces possible criminal charges for role in opioid crisis

New York’s Suffolk County sues Jewish multi-billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin; Connecticut and NY consider pressing charges

Opioids, addiction, overdose (Illustrative, via iStock)
Opioids, addiction, overdose (Illustrative, via iStock)

WASHINGTON — Suffolk County, New York, has sued the multi-billionaire Sackler family for its role in the opioid crisis ravaging America.

The Sacklers own the Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, which created and manufactures OxyContin, one of the most widely used and prescribed opioid drugs on the market. Representing Suffolk, attorney Paul Hanley said that the family marketed the drug while knowing it was promoting faulty information about it.

“The Sackler family were instrumental in developing the entire marketing program for OxyContin, which was predicated upon entirely false science … or no science at all … and because among other things, they have profited grandly from sales of OxyContin,” Hanley recently told a local radio station.

The lawsuit said the Sacklers “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive.” Also included in the litigation are several pharmacy chains, such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS and Walmart.

Meanwhile, prosecutors for New York state and Connecticut have reportedly been weighing criminal fraud and racketeering charges against several members of the Sackler family, according to The Guardian, alleging that OxyContin was recklessly overprescribed as a result of marketing that was deceitful to both doctors and the public.

The Sacklers are an extremely wealthy family that made its fortune when brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler’s company launched and began to distribute OxyContin, an oxycodone painkiller, in the 1990s.

The family members targeted in the lawsuit are Mortimer, Richard, Jonathan, Kathe and Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, the children of the Mortimer and Raymond, both deceased. All of the Sacklers mentioned in the lawsuit are on Purdue Pharma’s board. They are collectively worth roughly $13 billion.

Descendants of Isaac and Sophie Sackler, who were Polish Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, the Sacklers have also been major funders of academic institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Major Ivy League schools take massive donations from them, including Columbia University, Yale University and Cornell University. The Sackler Faculty of Medicine in Tel Aviv is named after them.

Purdue is also being sued in 30 different states, with the first trial expected to take place this spring in Louisiana. Experts told the Guardian they are expecting the collection of lawsuits to likely end in a major settlement, similar to the $250 billion deal Big Tobacco companies reached in 1997.

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