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David Sackler calls family’s duty in opioid crisis a moral, not legal, one

A member of the ultrawealthy family that controls Purdue Pharma took to the witness stand as the company seeks bankruptcy protection in the face of massive liability for its marketing of OxyContin.

(CN) — Urging a federal judge to approve the bankruptcy deal for Purdue Pharma, a member of the family behind the company that makes the painkiller OxyContin testified Tuesday that the family doesn’t accept legal responsibility.

“I don’t believe the allegations against our family is legally meritous (sic)," former board Purdue member David Sackler said Tuesday, on the stand during what will be an 11-day hearing in federal bankruptcy court to confirm Purdue's $10 billion settlement of lawsuits that say its marketing of OxyCotin fueled the opioid epidemic.

As part of the proposed deal, the Sackler family has an obligation to pay about $4.325 billion of it. The proposal further stipulates the Sackler family will get out of the opioid business within the next seven years and sell off their independent affiliated companies.

David Sackler testified Tuesday the settlement payments from his family would be drawn from their family trust — in which he is one of the beneficiaries — but not their personal assets.

According to a report prepared this year by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the Sackler family's total net assets stand at about $11 billion. In addition to their estimated $1 billion ownership stake in international drug companies, the family billions more invested in real estate, securities and other ventures.

Recordings of Tuesday's hearing in bankruptcy court for the Southern District of New York were not permitted. Though the parties dialed in via videoconferencing software, members of the public were limited to an audio feed. The hearing came as certain parties in the case seek to hold the Sacklers personally liable.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong for one took to the bully pulpit last month as the Sackler family proposed then quickly withdrew a motion for sanctions. In addition to accusing the Sacklers of keeping documents behind a protective order, Tong said the family is hiding behind Purdue’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings to dodge personal responsibility.

Tong doubled down on this argument after the latest court hearing. “If David Sackler and the Sackler family believe they have a moral responsibility to help, they need to step up, acknowledge their role in the opioid crisis and be a partner because what they have done is not enough," the attorney general said in a statement.

Under oath Tuesday, Sackler fielded questions from lawyers representing doctors, individuals, Canadian creditors and offices of state attorney generals.

Sackler said he believed that it was true that Purdue caused deaths in the United States. Right on the bottle it says even taking the opioids Purdue manufactured as prescribed could lead to addiction or death.

“Statistically, it must be,” Sackler said. “So yes, I believe it must be true.”

Purdue pleaded guilty in November to three criminal charges, including conspiracies to violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

Sackler said access to painkillers is a basic human right and the risk and net societal benefits of them is unquestioned.

When asked about balancing the benefits of painkillers with the risk of addiction, Sackler said that question was the job of the U.S. Food and Drug Association. Purdue, he continued, had marketing authorization by the FDA and with it came “tremendous oversight.”

When he was on the board, Sackler said, the number of prescriptions for opioids were falling and marketing was not geared toward getting more people on prescriptions but toward capturing the customers of Purdue’s customers.

“Marketing share isn’t the same as market expansion,” Sackler said.

According to numbers compiled by House investigators, Purdue made $31 billion marketing OxyContin between 1996 and 2016. Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic has led to the deaths of nearly 450,000 Americans since 1999.

Sackler testified Tuesday that he voted in 2018 for the company to stop marketing its opioid products, relying on the counsel of the company’s “very esteemed management team.” He didn’t recall if part of the reason was because the state was facing down lawsuits brought by states.

Under questioning from attorney Allen Underwood, who represents some Canadian First Nation peoples and municipalities in Canada in the bankruptcy proceedings, Sackler said he would not agree to a deal that he would know his family would default on, and he was aware the family would be on the line to contribute to the settlement if the independent affiliated companies lose value before their sale.

Sackler added that he is unaware of any other international liability beside the action in Canada.

Attorneys for the Sackler family did not immediately return a request for comment.

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