OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pleads guilty in criminal case

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FILE – In this April 2, 2018, file photo, a pharmacist in San Francisco poses for photos holding a bottle of OxyContin. In court papers filed in New York on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, Purdue Pharma, the drug’s manufacturer, flied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

ASSOCIATED PRESS- OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has pleaded guilty to criminal charges and formally admitted its role in the opioid crisis.

Tuesday’s plea before a judge in Newark, New Jersey, is part of a larger settlement with the U.S Department of Justice that also includes resolving civil claims. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company is to pay $225 million as part of the deal, while $8 billion in forfeitures and penalties could be waived because of a proposed deal to resolve thousands of other lawsuits. Advocates are upset that the guilty plea applies only to the company and not executives or members of the Sackler family who own it.

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty Tuesday to three criminal charges, formally admitting its role in an opioid epidemic that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past two decades.
In a virtual hearing with a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey, the OxyContin maker admitted impeding the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts to combat the addiction crisis. Purdue acknowledged that it had not maintained an effective program to prevent prescription drugs from being diverted to the black market, even though it had told the DEA it did have such a program, and that it provided misleading information to the agency as a way to boost company manufacturing quotas.

It also admitted paying doctors through a speakers program to induce them to write more prescriptions for its painkillers.

The guilty pleas were entered by Purdue board chairperson Steve Miller on behalf of the company. They were part of a criminal and civil settlement announced last month between the Stamford, Connecticut-based company and the Justice Department.

The deal includes $8.3 billion in penalties and forfeitures, but the company is on the hook for a direct payment to the federal government of only a fraction of that, $225 million. It would pay the smaller amount as long as it executes a settlement moving through federal bankruptcy court with state and local governments and other entities suing it over the toll of the opioid epidemic.

Members of the wealthy Sackler family who own the company have also agreed to pay $225 million to the federal government to settle civil claims. No criminal charges have been filed against family members, although their deal leaves open the possibility of that in the future.

Purdue’s plea to federal crimes provides only minor comfort for advocates who want to see harsher penalties for the OxyContin maker and its owners. The ongoing drug overdose crisis, which appears to be growing worse during the coronavirus pandemic, has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans over the past two decades, most of those from legal and illicit opioids.

The attorneys general for about half the states opposed the federal settlement, as well as the company’s proposed settlement in bankruptcy court. In the bankruptcy case, Purdue has proposed transforming into a public benefit corporation with its proceeds going to help address the opioid crisis.

The attorneys general and some activists are upset that despite the Sacklers giving up control of the company, the family remains wealthy and its members will not face prison or other individual penalties.

The activists say there’s no difference between the actions of the company and its owners, who also controlled Purdue’s board until the past few years.

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