Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty in OxyContin Case

Angelina Astic, Copy Editor

Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the prescription opioid OxyContin, reached an agreement with the Justice Department to plead guilty to three federal criminal charges. 

The agreement includes a payment upwards of $8 billion in restitution for Purdue Pharma’s contribution to the widespread national opioid epidemic due to its heavy marketing of the drug.

The restitution is designated to fund treatments for those who have grown dependent on opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1999 to 2018, nearly 450,000 individuals died as a result of either a prescription or illicit opioid overdose.

Purdue Pharma admitted to making a series of efforts to increase the prescription and usage of opioids. Between June 2009 and Mar. 2017, they made payments to two physicians through the Purdue Pharma doctor-speaker program to motivate the physicians to write more prescriptions of the corporation’s drug. 

From Apr. 2016 to Dec. 2016, the manufacturer wired a series of payments to Practice Fusion, Inc., a healthcare records company, in order to increase recommendations and orders of Purdue’s extended-release opioids. 

The record-breaking settlement, includes one charge of dual-object conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and its government as well as the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and two charges of violation of federal anti-kickback laws (which prohibit payments in exchange for referring patients to medical services, programs or products). It requires Purdue Pharma pay an additional $3.45 billion in criminal fines and agrees to a payment of $2.8 billion towards civil liability. 

After filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 in Sept. 2019, Purdue Pharma, under the recent ruling, is set to undergo restructuring and become a public trust under control of the federal government. While undergoing and post restructuring, the company plans to continue production of OxyContin, cited by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen as a necessary painkiller. The company also plans to manufacture overdose and treatment medications for those who have fallen victim to the epidemic. 

The owners of Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, who withdrew upwards of $10 billion from Purdue Pharma during the epidemic, have had no charges brought against them in the case, although they have not been officially released from criminal liability and may face future charges as a criminal investigation into the family continues. 

Prior to the ruling, the Justice Department received a letter on Oct. 15 signed by dozens of members of Congress expressing concern over the fact that the Sackler family had not faced charges for their role as executives in the facilitation of the U.S.’s opioid crisis. 

On Wednesday, the Justice Department issued a press release announcing the resolution of its criminal and civil investigations into Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, and also discussed the $225 million civil settlement that the Sackler family is required to pay; however, as noted, the family still may face future charges. 

The Department also featured a statement by Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Steven M. D’Antuono, who congratulated the Federal Bureau of Investigation on years of investigation into the U.S. opioid crisis. 

“Purdue, through greed and violation of the law, prioritized money over the health and well-being of patients,” D’Antuono said in the statement. “The FBI remains committed to holding companies accountable for their illegal and inexcusable activity and to seeking justice, on behalf of the victims, for those who contributed to the opioid crisis.”