The former president and CEO of Purdue Pharma told the court on Wednesday that he, his family, and the company were not responsible for the opioid crisis in the United States.
Richard Sackler, a member of the company’s royal family, was asked if everyone was liable during a federal bankruptcy hearing in White Plains, New York, about whether a judge should accept the OxyContin maker’s plan to settle thousands of lawsuits.
And he answered each of them with a one-word answer: “No.”
Richard Sackler’s denial of responsibility for the opioid crisis comes a day after another member of the Sackler family said the group would not accept a settlement without guarantees of immunity from further legal action.
The previous words of Richard Sackler, now 76, are at the heart of lawsuits accusing the Stamford, US-based company of being a major part of sparking the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Anti-opioid activists view Sackler as the ‘main villain’
At a 1996 event to launch OxyContin sales, he told the company’s sales team that there would be a “prescription snowstorm that would bury the competition.”
Five years later, as powerful pain medication was clearly being abused in some cases, he said in an email that Purdue would have to “hammer abusers in every possible way,” calling them “the offenders and criminals a problem.”
For these reasons, activists fighting companies involved in selling opioids often see Richard Sackler—who was the company’s president from 1999 to 2003, its chairman from 2004 until 2007, and a board member from 1990 through 2018—as a Head bastard.
He has not appeared in public forums in recent years with the external video of testimony he gave in a 2015 lawsuit.
In a video-conducted hearing on Wednesday, Sackler, now 76, said he had laryngitis, and his voice was thin at times.
In response to more than three hours of questions, mostly from Maryland Assistant Attorney General Brian Edmonds, his most common answer was “I don’t remember.”
Sackler, whose father was one of three brothers who bought nearly 70 years ago the company that would later become Purdue Pharma, did not remember the emails he wrote a decade or more earlier; whether Purdue’s board of directors has approved certain sales strategies; whether a company owned by Sackler family members sells opioids in Argentina; Or whether he paid any of his own money as part of a settlement with Oklahoma to which the Sackler family contributed $75 million.
Often, he would answer questions with more questions, asking for accuracy.
When Edmonds asked him if he knew how many people had died in the United States from opioid use, Sackler asked him to specify the time period.
Edmonds did: 2005 to 2017.
“I don’t know,” Sackler said. He said he had seen some data on deaths in the past.
500,000 overdose deaths in the United States in two decades
The US Centers for Disease Control has counted more than 500,000 deaths in the United States from opioid overdose, including prescription drugs and illegal drugs like heroin and illegally produced fentanyl, since 2000.
At another point, Edmonds asked if he had held talks with the sales managers.
“Can you define what you mean by sales managers?” Sackler asked.
Edmonds did. Then Sackler said he did not remember such conversations.
Edmonds asked about a disagreement over the company’s sales goals at one point. Sackler corrected it.
“I used the word dispute,” he said. “It was not a disagreement. It was a difference of opinion.”
Sackler’s testimony came a day after that of his son, David Sackler.
The younger Sackler, who also served on Purdue’s board of directors, reiterated something that has long been the family’s position: They would approve their part of Purdue’s restructuring plan only if family members received protection from opioid lawsuits and other Purdue actions.
David Sackler said that if those provisions did not stay in the deal, the family would instead face lawsuits. “I think we’re going to file lawsuits over its end result,” he said.
On Wednesday, Richard Sackler said the family would not agree if states opposed to the deal were not bound by it and allowed to proceed with lawsuits against the company and family members.
Under the proposed settlement, the Sackler family members would relinquish ownership of Purdue and contribute $4.5 billion over time in cash and control to charitable trusts. Most of the money, along with Purdue’s future earnings, will be used to alleviate the opioid crisis. Some go to individual victims and their families.
US Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drin said Wednesday that he expects to complete the testimony on Thursday, with final arguments to begin on Monday and a decision later next week.