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Today, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched a major lawsuit addressing the opioid epidemic in New York, naming the Sackler Family and their company Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer and creator of OxyContin.
James filed the claim, which amends a lawsuit made last year accusing Purdue Pharma of deceptive marketing, with the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Suffolk County this morning. The updated suit also accuses a number of prescription opioid manufacturers and national prescription drug distributors including Johnson & Johnson-owned Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Teva, an Israeli pharmaceutical company.
The amended lawsuit claims that, “Despite having full knowledge of opioids’ risk of addiction, abuse, and diversion, the Sacklers, as the owners of Purdue involved with each and every material decision relating to the development and sale of Purdue’s opioids, were actively involved in marketing Purdue’s opioids in a way that deceptively minimized those risks and overstated the benefits.”
“[The Sacklers] put profit over patients,” James said at a news conference today, adding that, “As Purdue sold more and more opioids, the Sackler family transferred more and more and more wealth to their personal account.”
The lawsuit also delves into the Sacklers status as major art and culture philanthropists, stating: “Ultimately, the Sacklers used their ill-gotten wealth to cover up their misconduct with a philanthropic campaign intending to whitewash their decades-long success in profiting at New Yorkers’ expense. For example, the Sacklers made significant contributions to New York institutions.” The suit then names the American Museum of Natural History’s Sackler Educational Library; the Dia Foundation’s Sackler Institute; the Guggenheim Museum’s Sackler Center for Arts Education; the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Sackler Wing; and the Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation’s donation of $6 million to the New York Presbyterian Hospital in 2015.
On March 22, prior to the amended lawsuit, the Guggenheim Museum told Hyperallergic that it “does not plan to accept any gifts” from the Sackler family. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently reviewing its gift acceptance police in the wake of the Sackler controversy. On March 25, the Met told Hyperallergic that “the Museum has not received gifts from the Sackler family over the past two years,” adding, “We will continue our review of the Museum’s gift acceptance policies, will adjust wherever necessary, and will be transparent in our process and conclusions.”
Today’s suit follows an announcement made on Tuesday, March 26, that Purdue and the Sacklers had settled a lawsuit brought against Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies by the state of Oklahoma, one of over 1,500 lawsuits launched against the company. Purdue and the Sacklers agreed to pay $270 million to the state, partially to fund a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa.
In a statement sent to Hyperallergic today, Purdue Pharma responded to today’s amended suit saying:
Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors of the company vigorously deny the allegations in the New York State Attorney General’s amended complaint, and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations.
The public announcement of the amended complaints is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.
In a public statement, the Sackler family said: “Expanding this baseless lawsuit to include former directors of Purdue Pharma is a misguided attempt to place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis. We strongly deny these allegations, which are inconsistent with the factual record, and will vigorously defend against them.”