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Purdue executive Richard Sackler cast blame on opioid victims, old emails show

Purdue Pharma agrees to $270M settlement
Accused of fueling opioid crisis, Purdue Pharma and Sacklers agree to $270 million settlement 02:58

A member of the family that owns Purdue Pharma cast blame on victims of the opioid epidemic in nearly 20-year-old emails that have been made public in a lawsuit brought by Connecticut's attorney general.

The lawsuit says former Purdue Pharma CEO Richard Sackler wrote to an acquaintance in 2001, "Abusers aren't victims; they are the victimizers."

The emails are similar in tone to other previous statements from Sackler that have been made public through lawsuits against Purdue or its controlling family.

In a partial transcript of a March deposition provided this week by a family spokesman, Sackler said of the 2001 emails that he no longer sees addiction the same way and that "my views have evolved."

About 2,000 lawsuits against the Connecticut-based company, the maker of OxyContin, have been filed around the country in the wake of the opioid crisis that name the Sackler family and Purdue, which are facing increasing pressure as details emerge about their efforts to market Purdue's OxyContin. 

Who are the Sacklers? 01:18

More than 500 cities, counties and tribes allege Purdue Pharma and its billionaire owners helped pave the way to a nationwide opioid epidemic that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans dead from overdoses. The opioid maker and eight members of the Sackler family were accused of racketeering in a suit filed in March in New York federal court.

"This nation is facing an unprecedented opioid addiction epidemic that was initiated and perpetuated by the Sackler defendants for their own financial gain," attorneys for the localities wrote in the complaint. 

The lawsuit, representing communities in 26 states as well as eight tribes, noted the Sackler family is worth an estimated $13 billion, partly due to the more-than-decade-long marketing campaign to boost sales of OxyContin. At the same time, the economic cost to the U.S. for the opioid epidemic was $504 billion in 2015, the lawsuit contends.

Family members such as Richard Sackler allegedly touted the drug for unapproved uses, the lawsuit claims. Purdue workers were instructed to tell doctors the painkillers were not addictive and could help an "enhanced lifestyle," according to the suit.

Purdue and the family have denied any wrongdoing, calling the March legal action part of a larger effort to "single out Purdue," and fault it for the entire crisis, a company spokesperson said in a statement. 

"Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations," the statement said.

The Sackler family has been working to settle many of the cases, the Wall Street Journal has reported, and in late March the family and company announced a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma that included $200 million in funding for the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa.

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