‘There’s not one Scrooge McDuck, there’s a lot of them’: The Sackler family’s sprawling wealth became the focus of a Purdue Pharma bankruptcy hearing

sackler purdue pharma opioid oxycontin
  • A judge overseeing the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case said the company’s wealth can’t be tied to one person.
  • “There’s not one Scrooge McDuck, there’s a lot of them,” Judge Robert Drain said.
  • If approved, the settlement would give the Sacklers immunity from future opioid-related lawsuits.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A judge overseeing a landmark bankruptcy hearing involving Purdue Pharma, the maker of the opioid OxyContin, said the company’s wealth can’t be tied to one person.

Judge Robert D. Drain of the Southern District of New York Bankruptcy Court heard from attorneys for Purdue Pharma and the creditors seeking bankruptcy settlement from the company. The May 26 hearing was meant for parties to bring up objections to Purdue Pharma’s proposed disclosure agreement, which provides information on its finances to help creditors make an informed decision on the settlement plan.

During the hearing, representatives for the Department of Justice’s Trustees Group and a committee of 24 non-consenting US states asked to include more details regarding the finances of the Sacklers, the billionaire family that founded Purdue Pharma.

“It’s not like, as I gather, Scrooge McDuck who just takes a bath in vaults of cash he has in his apartment,” Judge Drain said. “There’s not one Scrooge McDuck, there’s a lot of them.”

During the May 26 hearing, a lawyer for the US Trustees Program requested Purdue Pharma explain why the settlement payout would take nine years to deliver and not be paid in a lump sum.

Though Forbes estimates the Sackler family’s net worth at $10.8 billion as of 2020, Darren S. Klein, an attorney from Davis Polk & Wardwell representing Purdue Pharma, said during the trial members of the family have different wealth depending on their ties to the company.

“There was very detailed financial diligence about individual wealth and liquidity of individual Sackler pods, which is why, each [side of the family] has a slightly different collateral package and a slightly different set of covenants,” Klein said. “I think that it is the debtor’s settlement and our job is to show that it’s reasonable, and not in fact to publish every piece of information.

But lawyers from Davis Polk & Wardwell agreed to include more detail regarding the Sackler family’s massive wealth in the disclosure agreement.

“We are delighted to add more language that the Sacklers would tell us if they believed in what Congress put out as having been submitted by the Sacklers is not correct,” Klein said, referring to a Congressional report that showed the Sackler family’s wealth totaled $11 billion. “We’re happy to.”

If approved by the court, the bankruptcy settlement would require the Sackler family to pay $4.2 billion to victims of the opioid crisis and forfeit control of Purdue Pharma, lawyers for Purdue Pharma said at the trial. But NPR’s Brian Mann reported the settlement would give the Sackler family immunity from all future opioid litigation.

State governments, school districts, Native American tribes, and doctors submitted objections to the disclosure agreement prior to the hearing, per court filings.

The litigation surrounding Purdue Pharma has caused a rift among the various members of the Sackler family, Patrick Radden Keefe detailed in his book “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.”

Though Arthur Sackler founded Purdue Pharma in 1952, his estranged brothers Mortimer and Raymond gained control of the company after Arthur died in 1987. Raymond Sackler’s son, Richard, was chairman of the board who guided Purdue Pharma during the approval and initial release of OxyContin in December 1995.

OxyContin was the “most prescribed brand name narcotic medication” for treating moderate to severe pain by 2001, according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office. Deaths from prescription opioid overdose quadrupled between 1999 to 2019, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 247,000 deaths from prescription opioid overdose over the last two decades.

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An FDA official who led the approval of OxyContin got a $400,000 gig at Purdue Pharma a year later, a new book reveals

Empire of Pain purdue pharma opioid sackler oxycontin
“Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty” by Patrick Radden Keefe

  • An FDA director who oversaw the approval of OxyContin got a $400K gig at Purdue Pharma a year later.
  • A new book by Patrick Radden Keefe reported on these claims and on the billionaire Sackler family.
  • A Sackler family lawyer told Insider Keefe refused to meet with them during his reporting process.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US regulator who oversaw the approval of the highly-addictive opioid OxyContin got a six-figure gig at the drug’s manufacturer a year later, a new book claims.

Curtis Wright, once a director at the US Food and Drug Administration who oversaw evaluation for pain medication, got a position with a first-year compensation package of $400,000 at Purdue Pharma a year after he led the approval of OxyContin, according to the book “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty” by Patrick Radden Keefe.

Purdue Pharma’s sale of OxyContin, a formulation of the narcotic oxycodone that was said to slow down the release of the strong painkiller when taken as prescribed, has been associated with the rise of the opioid crisis, according to a trillion-dollar lawsuit filed by nearly all US states.

OxyContin was the “most prescribed brand name narcotic medication” for treating moderate to severe pain by 2001, according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office. Deaths from prescription opioid overdose quadrupled between 1999 to 2019, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 247,000 deaths from prescription opioid overdose over the last two decades.

Read more: One of the nation’s biggest insurers wants to make mental-health care available to more people. Here’s how Cigna plans to tap Ginger’s network of coaches to do it.

Keefe’s book explores the lives of the billionaire Sackler family who founded Purdue Pharma and profited off of the sale of OxyContin. Forbes estimates the Sackler family’s net worth at $10.8 billion, as of December 2020.

“This author has refused to correct errors in his past reporting and also blatantly violated journalistic ethics by refusing to meet with representatives for the Sackler family during the reporting of his book,” Daniel S. Connolly, an attorney for the Raymond Sackler family, said in a statement to Insider. “Documents being released in Purdue’s bankruptcy now demonstrate that Sackler family members who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and lawfully.”

The FDA approved OxyContin in December 1995, originally believing the controlled-release formulation of OxyContin would result in “less abuse potential,” according to the agency’s website. The agency amended the label in 2001, giving OxyContin a “black box” warning it adds on drug with the highest possible abuse potential, per the FDA website.

Keefe wrote Wright had confessed in a sworn deposition that he “might” have written the portion of the FDA package insert that said OxyContin was “believed to reduce the abuse liability of the drug.” Keefe added that Wright would instruct Purdue Pharma to mail him documents at his home office, and conducted reviews of clinical study reports regarding the safety of OxyContin with the help of Purdue Pharma employees.

After Wright left the FDA he spent a year at another company before joining Purdue, according to the book.

“That was sufficient as a cooling-off period, apparently, to allay any concerns that Richard Sackler might have had about the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Keefe wrote.

Purdue Pharma did not have additional comment to add. The FDA declined to comment.

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