The Sackler family — the ultra-wealthy family that made billions from illegally marketed opioids and the group largely blamed for fueling and fueling the devastating $504 billion-a-year opioid addiction epidemic — has made even more money from the country’s drug crisis than previously thought, according to a series of reports from the Financial times.
The Sacklers own the infamous drug company Purdue Pharma, which pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in 2007 for misleading doctors, regulators and patients about the addictiveness of its opioid oxycodone drug, OxyContin. Still, the guilty plea seemed to do little to reform the company’s ethics or curb sales, according to a new report in the FT. Purdue continued to recklessly push the drugs on doctors, insiders told the outlet, and in 2010 it raised more than $3 billion in OxyContin sales.
In 2016, Forbes estimated the collective wealth of the Sackler family at $13 billion.
But according to a second FT report, the Sacklers didn’t just continue “business as usual” in Purdue — the family quietly opened a second drug company called Rhodes Pharma just four months after the guilty plea. And since then, the Rhode Island-based pillmaker has become one of the largest producers of generic opioids in the US.
In 2016, Rhodes and Purdue together dispensed 14.4 million opioid prescriptions. This makes them the seventh largest opioid producer by market share, accounting for six percent of the U.S. opioid market, according to documents released by the United States. FT.
The figure is striking because Purdue has long denied a leading role in the opioid epidemic, noting that OxyContin sales make up only a small percentage of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. — just 1.7 percent in 2016. But it does. Purdue and Rhodes’ combined market share significantly weakens that argument.
In addition, former Purdue employees told the FT that sellers were not only incentivized to relentlessly expand OxyContin sales, but also to promote generic opioids. Specifically, some of their bonuses were calculated based on the size of the total opioid market. That unusual business move makes much more sense knowing that Purdue’s owners also owned a business that sells generic opioids.
Since his admission of guilt in 2007, Purdue has faced more than a thousand lawsuits from states, cities and counties, all of which have made similar allegations about deceptive marketing that fueled the opioid epidemic. Late last year, the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated that the epidemic of deaths and opioid abuse resulted in an economic loss of $504 billion in 2015, or 2.8 percent of GDP. That year, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose.
Purdue and the Sackler family continue to deny a role in the epidemic and fight the lawsuits. But Purdue announced earlier this year that it would stop aggressively marketing OxyContin.
Also this year, Purdue and Richard Sackler obtained a patent for a new form of the mild opioid buprenorphine that could be used as a treatment for opioid addiction, according to a third report from the FT.
The patent application notes:
While opioids have always been known to be useful in pain management, they also exhibit addictive potential due to their euphorogenic activity. So, when opioids are taken by healthy people with drug-seeking behaviors, they can lead to both psychological and physical dependence.