I have twice been asked today if the news about Purdue Pharma requesting bankruptcy protection is a good thing. As in, does this mean they are suffering the impact of intense scrutiny and lawsuits. It’s a legitimate question. The problem is that my experience studying and following the activities of this company indicate that this is simply more maneuvering to try to escape the worst impacts of their current situation.
I’d like to shed a little light on why I feel this way. To be honest, I hope you are frothing mad by the time you finish reading this note.
At the end of this article, I’m going to include some links to articles about Purdue and other opioid manufacturers that I’ve written in the past. If you really want to dig deep on this topic, there’s more for you to study.
First, you can read the New York Times article on their bankruptcy here.
It’s going to require some background on the company and owners to give you the whole picture. Here goes.
What is Purdue Pharma?
It is a privately-held company that makes pharmaceutical products. Their flagship product that has made them untold billions of dollars is OxyContin, a strong time-release opioid, a painkiller.
Who owns Purdue Pharma?
The Sackler family. Arthur Sackler, a psychiatrist, and his brothers Mortimer and Raymond bought a small company named Purdue Frederick and turned it into a powerhouse. First, they invented aggressive advertising and marketing techniques to popularize Valium. After Arthur’s death in 1987, his brothers and heirs used these innovative techniques to convince doctors to begin prescribing their patented opioid formula, OxyContin, freely to any patient in pain.
Why is Purdue Declaring Bankruptcy?
They’ve been hinting at this possibility for a while. They and other opioid makers have been targeted by states, counties, cities, hospitals, tribes, unions, and other groups that wish to hold them accountable. They are named in more than two thousand lawsuits filed by these groups that wish to recoup their astronomical costs coping with the epidemic of the opioid addiction spawned by these aggressive marketing actions.
It’s been reported that Purdue has offered to settle these lawsuits for $10 billion to $12 billion dollars. Would this be an adequate sum to deal with the millions of people who became dependent on or addicted to these drugs as a result of the massive overprescribing generated by their aggressive marketing? Here’s one way to look at it: The State of Oklahoma estimated how much it would cost them to fully reverse painkiller addiction in their state. For a couple of years, Oklahoma had the worst prescription drug misuse and addiction problem in the country. So their problem was severe. Their price tag came in at $17 billion over a 30-year period.
So considering that there’s no State in the Union that has escaped the devastating impact of these drugs, $10 billion is an utterly, abysmally inadequate number.
The medical news website statnews.com explains what happens if they are allowed to declare bankruptcy:
“A bankruptcy filing should freeze the lawsuits against the drug maker and likely result in the claims being shifted into bankruptcy court, according to legal experts. Such a process is meant to ensure that a company that declares bankruptcy can preserve its value while it gets more time to negotiate with every entity to which it owes money. It’s also meant to ensure that all those creditors — as plaintiffs awarded money are known in bankruptcy proceedings — get some piece of the company’s assets.
“But some state attorneys general — who are among those who have sued the company — oppose the deal. They’ve stressed they will continue to seek additional damages from the company and members of the Sackler family, who control Purdue and who have reaped billions from the sale of opioid painkillers. Some of the lawsuits have named individual Sacklers as defendants.”
What You Need to Know about their 2007 Settlement
The powers that be have LONG known the pernicious effect Purdue has had on the medical field and the American public. Federal attorneys filed a lawsuit that Purdue settled in 2007 for $634.5 million. This lawsuit charged that Purdue knew OxyContin was addictive but that they claimed in their advertising that it was not. Their salesmen were trained to wheedle and convince doctors to prescribe more of their painkiller than other formulas, without any regard for the addiction of their patients.
Most of this sum was paid by the company and some of it was paid by top executives. What is amazing is that after this lawsuit, it was business as usual for Purdue. For another 12 years, their marketing continued much the same as it always had. Thus, the necessity for a severe increase in the measures taken to hold this company accountable. It would take another eight years for the pot to come to a sufficient boil to make this happen.
In 2015, I heard about a book titled Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. I immediately bought it and read it. I found that Quinones, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, had gathered together all the most pertinent information about how the opioid epidemic had gotten started and grew to catastrophic proportions. He had an authentic and honest 30,000 foot view of the situation.
By the time I read this book, I already knew much of the background of this situation myself. But no one… no one anywhere… had pulled all the information together into one easy-to-read manual that simply laid out the truth so unmistakably, it was impossible to miss. The book created a major grass-roots furor. Quinones has traveled the country since then, educating communities and politicians on the source of the problem so it could be rooted out.
Without this book, I honestly don’t think we would have Purdue named in 2,000+ lawsuits. It might never have happened.
With these thousands of lawsuits, there’s also been massive numbers of investigations, depositions, subpoenas and requests for documents. As these requests have been filled, the most depraved indifference for human life has come to light. This is the major reason I’m writing this essay. You can read about the lawsuits, you can read someone’s opinion about Purdue and how bad they are. But nothing communicates like seeing what the Sackler family was really thinking and feeling about their business and the people taking their painkillers.
First, know this. Opioids are addictive. They always have been. Any medical student SHOULD know this. But Purdue had to overcome doctors’ resistance to prescribing opioids unless they were REALLY needed for severe pain. Originally, doctors would only prescribe opioids for a short time because no one wanted to make an addict.
Through relentless and fraudulent marketing, Purdue overcame this resistance. And hundreds of thousands of people died as a result.
Here are the drug overdose deaths since 1999. Not all of these are due to opioid overdoses. But about 60% of them are. You can take it from me that this graph would not look anything like this if the Sacklers had not invented a soulless, amoral method of marketing their patented product.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
I want you to be able to go behind the scenes and understand the corporate insanity that existed and ran unchecked for a couple of decades, taking hundreds of thousands of lives as it did. But I felt you needed the background above to put it in perspective.
In January 2019, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the Sackler family and several of their key employees. The full text of this lawsuit can be found here.
These attorneys did a masterful job of digging up the most horrific dirt on the Sacklers. Because the lawsuit is hundreds of pages long, I just want to excerpt some parts that will illuminate this world of amoral corporate greed.
The State charges: To profit from its dangerous drugs, Purdue engaged in a deadly and illegal
scheme to deceive doctors and patients. First, Purdue deceived Massachusetts doctors and patients to get more people on its dangerous drugs. Purdue targeted vulnerable people who could be introduced to its opioids, including elderly patients, veterans, and people who had never taken opioids before. Second, Purdue misled them to take higher and more dangerous doses. Third, Purdue deceived them to stay on its drugs for longer and more harmful periods of time.
All the while, Purdue peddled falsehoods to keep patients away from safer alternatives. Even when Purdue knew people in Massachusetts were addicted and dying, Purdue treated doctors and patients as “targets” to sell more drugs.
The State further charges that: Purdue always knew that its opioids carry grave risks of addiction and death. Instead of being honest about these risks, Purdue obscured them, including by falsely stating and implying that “appropriate” patients won’t get addicted.
In a pamphlet for doctors, Providing Relief, Preventing Abuse: A Reference Guide To Controlled Substance Prescribing Practices, Purdue wrote that addiction “is not caused by drugs.” Instead, Purdue assured doctors that addiction happens when the wrong patients get drugs and abuse them: “it is triggered in a susceptible individual by exposure to drugs, most commonly through abuse.”
This excerpt from the lawsuit reveals Purdue executive attitudes about overprescribing and death.
In 1999, Richard Sackler became the CEO of Purdue. Jonathan, Kathe, and Mortimer [Sackler] were Vice Presidents. The company hired hundreds of sales representatives and taught them false claims to use to sell drugs. Purdue managers tested the sales reps on the most important false statements during training at company headquarters. On the crucial issue of addiction, which would damage so many lives, Purdue trained its sales reps to deceive doctors that the risk of addiction was “less than one percent.”
Purdue mailed thousands of doctors promotional videos with that same false claim:
“There’s no question that our best, strongest pain medicines are the opioids. But these are the same drugs that have a reputation for causing addiction and other terrible things. Now, in fact, the rate of addiction amongst pain patients who are treated by doctors is much less than one percent. They don’t wear out, they go on working, they do not have serious medical side effects.”
[IMPORTANT: The claim that addiction among pain patients was 1% is a complete lie but they promoted this “fact” over and over. It was based on a casual letter a doctor once wrote to a medical journal, not any systematic study or testing.]
A sales representative told a reporter: “We were directed to lie. Why mince words about it? Greed took hold and overruled everything. They saw that potential for billions of dollars and just went after it.”
[In 2001], a federal prosecutor reported 59 deaths from OxyContin in a single state. The Sacklers knew that the reports underestimated the destruction. Richard Sackler wrote to Purdue executives: “This is not too bad. It could have been far worse.” The next week, on February 14, a mother wrote a letter to Purdue:
“My son was only 28 years old when he died from Oxycontin on New Year’s Day. We all miss him very much, his wife especially on Valentines’ Day. Why would a company make a product that strong (80 and 160 mg) when they know they will kill young people? My son had a bad back and could have taken Motrin but his Dr. started him on Vicodin, then Oxycontin then Oxycontin SR. Now he is dead!”
A Purdue staff member noted: “I see a liability issue here. Any suggestions?”
That same month, Richard Sackler wrote down his solution to the overwhelming
evidence of overdose and death: blame and stigmatize people who become addicted to opioids. Sackler wrote in a confidential email: “we have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” Richard followed that strategy for the rest of his career: collect millions from selling addictive drugs, and blame the terrible consequences on the people who became addicted. By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible. And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.
In the following image, you can see how many times a Purdue sales rep visited ONE INDIVIDUAL DOCTOR in Massachusetts to pressure him or her into prescribing more of Purdue’s OxyContin.
After the 2007 Settlement
Even after the 2007 settlement in which the subsidiary Purdue Frederick admitted guilt to felonies, the parent company Purdue Pharma continued their crimes. As part of that settlement, they promised to stop fraudulently marketing their pills. However:
…they continued to mail out thousands of deceptive marketing materials, including 12,528 publications in the first half of 2007. The single most-distributed material was volume #1 of Purdue’s “Focused and Customized Education Topic Selections in Pain Management” (FACETS). In FACETS, Purdue falsely instructed doctors and patients that physical dependence on opioids is not dangerous and instead improves patients’ “quality of life” — . In the same material, Purdue also falsely told doctors and patients that signs of addiction are actually “pseudoaddiction,” and that doctors should respond by prescribing more opioids. Staff told the Sacklers that another of the publications they had sent most often to doctors was “Complexities in Caring for People in Pain.” In it, Purdue repeated again its false claim that warning signs of addiction are really “pseudoaddiction” that should be treated with more opioids.
Where was Richard Sackler’s heart? This quote from the lawsuit describes it:
At the OxyContin launch party, Richard Sackler spoke as the Senior Vice President responsible for sales. He asked the audience to imagine a series of natural disasters: an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, and a blizzard. He said: “the launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white….
For another viewpoint on the Sacklers and Purdue, the Los Angeles Times did a magnificent job explaining how Purdue’s fraud damaged people’s lives and got them addicted. The title of their article was YOU WANT A DESCRIPTION OF HELL?’ OXYCONTIN’S 12-HOUR PROBLEM. You can read this article here: https://www.latimes.com/projects/oxycontin-part1/
In this article, you can see just how Purdue’s instructions from sales reps to doctors resulted in millions of addicted patients who may have had to turn to illicit supplies of heroin if their funds ran out to buy pills or their doctors became worried about liability and cut them off.
This year, states, counties and so on have not only been suing Purdue. They have started suing the Sacklers individually. Oregon’s Attorney General filed a lawsuit charging that they were siphoning off billions of dollars from the company and stashing it in overseas accounts to lower the company’s ability to pay off the lawsuits. The AG claimed that $11 billion had been ripped out of Purdue. You can read about this lawsuit here. The Los Angeles Times covered their secretive transfer of funds here.
- The Sacklers are murderous criminals.
- They should not be allowed to declare bankruptcy.
- Guantanamo is the right place for them.
- They deserve to lose every dollar they have ever owned.
I hope you have enough data now to agree.