A new lawsuit filed against Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the makers of OxyContin, accuses former company president Richard Sackler of directing the company to promote high-doses of the opioid painkiller, according to The New York Times.
In a recently disclosed email included in the filing, Sackler advised company officials to “measure our performance by Rx’s by strength, giving higher measures to higher strengths.”
The lawsuit argues that the company, and members of the founding Sackler family, were well aware that higher doses of OxyContin increased the risk of addiction, as well as other side effects. It was filed in June by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
The accusations were denied by Robert Josephson, a spokesperson for the company:
“None of the documents cited by the attorney general support her fictional narrative that the company was only interested in promoting higher doses.”
In the past, Richard Sackler has said he was not engaged in Purdue’s marketing efforts, and the new email is one of the first pieces of evidence to contradict that statement.
Parts of the lawsuit were redacted as recently as last week, until a Massachusetts state judge agreed the complaint should be made public. On Thursday, Purdue tried to block the release.
Purdue pled guilty to federal charges in 2007, saying the company had downplayed the risk of addiction and other problems for patients using OxyContin. Three officials pled guilty to misdemeanors, and, along with the company itself, paid fines totaling $634.5 million.
Since then, the Sacklers have represented themselves as largely uninvolved in the daily operations of Purdue. The family is among the wealthiest in America, and OxyContin played a large role in that success.
The disclosures also show that the Purdue board, including members of the Sackler family, voted to pay millions to the officials that pled guilty, in order to retain their loyalty, according to the lawsuit.
They also include a chart showing that the Sacklers have received over $4 billion in profits from opioid medications since Purdue pled guilty to the charges in 2007.
Furthermore, the lawsuit accuses the company of working with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company on campaigns to encourage doctors to prescribe the most powerful forms of Purdue’s opioids. The firm also planned to develop methods to keep patients on their opioid prescriptions for longer. They encouraged Purdue to falsely claim that the drugs reduce stress and isolation for patients.
Recently, Purdue has also considered marketing drugs to help treat opioid addiction or help stem overdoses, according to the filing.
A presentation to Purdue officials in 2014 encouraging such a move argued that “pain treatment and addiction are naturally linked.”
“There is an opportunity to expand our offering to be an end-to-end pain provider.”