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Sackler family sued by 500 cities, counties and tribes over opioid epidemic

Who are the Sacklers?

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 are accused of racketeering in the suit filed this week in New York federal court. The suit is among multiple legal actions naming the Sackler family and Purdue, which are facing increasing pressure as details emerge about their efforts to market Purdue's OxyContin.

"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 former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler allegedly toutied 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.

Other lawsuits

The allegations echo those made by the Massachusetts attorney general, who contends in a separate suit that Purdue and eight members of the Sackler family are "personally responsible" for deceptively selling OxyContin

Purdue and the family denied any wrongdoing. The latest legal action is part of a larger effort to "single out Purdue," and fault it for the entire crisis, a company spokesperson said in an emailed 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.

Purdue could file for bankruptcy as a means of limiting its potential liabilities from its alleged role in the opioid crisis, with the company recently reported by people familiar with the matter to be considering the option. 

Other drugmakers including Johnson & Johnson have also been sued as a result of the opioid crisis, which results in the deaths of 100 Americans each day. 

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