Purdue Pharma lawsuit: Sackler family sued over toll of opioids

The Sackler family, the wealthy clan behind OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, is now being sued over the toll of opioid painkillers in one New York county — and it's likely to be sued by hundreds more.

Well over 1,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments blame drug companies for a crisis of addiction and overdoses across the country. Only a few of them have named members of the Sackler family, which owns and controls Purdue Pharma and is worth an estimated $13 billion, as defendants. 

But a new filing by New York's Suffolk County asserts that family members participated in billing OxyContin as non-addictive even though they knew that was not the case. The claim lays out more detailed allegations about the involvement of the family, which is a funder of museums around the world, including the Smithsonian, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate Modern in London.

It's not the first lawsuit targeting the Sackler family, which was personally named in a lawsuit in June in which the Massachusetts attorney general accused them of a "deadly, deceptive scheme to sell opioids." The company, and the Sackler family, deny those allegations.

The latest lawsuit claims the family learned in 1999 that OxyContin was being abused but that a Purdue company official later told a congressional investigation that they were unaware of abuses until 2000.

A spokesman said the family declined to comment.

Paul Hanly, a lawyer representing Suffolk County, says the roughly 200 other local governments he represents in similar suits will also be going after the Sacklers and that other lawyers will follow.

"It raises the stakes dramatically," Hanly said. He said that family members took "tens of billions" in profits out of the company — and that they could be forced to give that money back to pay damages and penalties in the lawsuits.

The Suffolk County suit is part of a group of lawsuits working their way through state courts in New York.

A judge in Cleveland is overseeing more than 1,000 similar suits and is pushing the governments and companies that make, distribute and sell opioids to reach a far-reaching settlement in the cases, including payments and changes in business practices in the industry.