WASHINGTON – Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty on Tuesday to criminal charges for misleading the federal government over sales of its blockbuster pain reliever OxyContin, the prescription opioid that has helped fuel a national drug crisis. The admission formally ended a massive federal investigation that resulted in a multi-billion dollar settlement between the company and the Justice Department.
“The abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has contributed to a national tragedy of drug addiction and death,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement. “Today’s convictions underscore the ministry’s commitment to its multi-pronged strategy to overcome the opioid crisis.
Purdue chairman Steve Miller admitted in a remote hearing in New Jersey federal court that in order to meet its sales targets, the company falsely told the Drug Enforcement Administration that it had created a program to prevent the sale of OxyContin on the black market. , even though it marketed the drug to more than 100 doctors suspected of illegally prescribing OxyContin.
Purdue also pleaded guilty to paying illegal bribes to doctors who prescribed OxyContin and to an electronic health records company, Practice Fusion, for targeting doctors with alerts intended to increase the rates. opioid prescriptions. Practice Fusion paid $ 145 million in fines for accepting these bribes.
Doctors who prescribe too much OxyContin, along with the illicit distribution of the drug, have contributed to the deaths of more than 450,000 Americans since 1999.
The advocacy ended the federal government’s case against Purdue, who sought bankruptcy protection to handle the wave of litigation he is facing.
The company agreed last month to plead guilty to criminal charges and face criminal and civil penalties of around $ 8.3 billion as part of the settlement with the Justice Department. A federal bankruptcy judge in New York City approved the deal last week.
The settlement included $ 3.54 billion in criminal fines and $ 2 billion in criminal confiscation of profits. The ministry said these were the biggest financial penalties imposed on a pharmaceutical manufacturer.
But the federal government is unlikely to receive the majority of the penalties, given that under its bankruptcy restructuring deal, Purdue will pay other creditors first. In bankruptcy proceedings, creditors usually only get pennies on the dollar for what is owed to them.
The owners of the company, members of the wealthy Sackler family, agreed to pay $ 225 million in civil penalties as part of the settlement, but did not immediately face criminal charges. Sales of OxyContin helped the Sacklers build a fortune estimated at at least $ 13 billion, an amount that dwarfs the fine.
But the settlement agreement does not prevent the federal government from investigating criminal charges against Purdue executives or members of the Sackler family who are involved in the business.
While the settlement gave the Trump administration a leading victory in the war on opioid addiction, Purdue also pushed to sort out his federal legal issues while President Trump was still in office, predicting his officials would conclude. a more generous deal than a new administration. .
Attorneys General in Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and other states said federal regulations did not do enough to hold the Sackler family to account.
Purdue did “everything he could to make this deal in this administration,” said Joe Rice, a local government negotiator suing Purdue, when the settlement was announced. “It’s beneficial for both parties.”
While the company’s board of directors said last month that it regrets its actions and accepts responsibility “for the Department of Justice’s detailed misconduct,” members of the Sackler family who had served on the board the company’s directors, who could still face legal action, said they had “acted ethically and legally.”
The statement added that these family members “have relied on repeated and consistent assurances from Purdue’s management team that the company meets all legal requirements.”
OxyContin was introduced to the market in the mid-1990s as a miraculous, non-addictive pain reliever. It was incorrect, and as more and more doctors have prescribed, people across the country have become addicted to the drug. The increase in demand created a booming market for illegal prescriptions and pharmacies that were only fronts for OxyContin sales, which also helped fuel a larger plague of illegal opioid addiction. like heroin and fentanyl.
The federal regulations do not end all litigation facing Purdue, nor do they end ongoing investigations and lawsuits related to other drugmakers and distributors accused of fueling the opioid addiction crisis.