Two members of the billionaire Sackler family that own Purdue Pharma, the American pharmaceutical manufacturer of the prescription pain reliever OxyContin, declined to apologize for their role in the opioid crisis that has killed nearly half a million Americans, during a hearing in Washington on Thursday.
Kathe Sackler and David Sackler, former members of the Purdue board of directors, said they regretted the pain suffered by people suffering from addiction and those who lost loved ones to overdoses, but avoided admitting their personal guilt. It was the first time that family members faced such public scrutiny in person for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic.
Democrat Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a member of the House oversight committee who questioned them at the online hearing, said that seeing the couple testify made his blood “boil.”
“I’m not sure I know of any family in America that is more evil than yours,” Cooper said.
Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in federal court last month to three criminal charges related to conspiring to mislead regulators and pay kickbacks to doctors and others in order to drive higher sales of the addictive narcotic. The active ingredient in the drug, oxycodone, is derived from the opium poppy.
The company also pleaded guilty and was fined in a criminal case in 2007, admitting it mislabelled the drug as safe when it wasn’t, but escaped serious consequences.
No individual Sackler has been charged with crimes, but six family members, including Kathe and David, and their company, have been sued by US cities, counties, and states, charged with orchestrating and knowingly Driving deceptive practices to boost OxyContin sales while misleading prescribers and the public about the risks of addiction and death.
The House committee hearing is part of a Congressional investigation into “the role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family in the opioid epidemic.”
Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, a state that has suffered high levels of addiction and death from over-prescribing opioids in the past 25 years, said the actions of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family in promoting OxyContin are “disgusting. “. ”.
“The company knew it was addictive, that it was creating all kinds of havoc in America, and yet you continued to market this product,” he said.
In his opening remarks, David Sackler, who is in his 30s and served on Purdue’s board of directors from 2012 to 2018, said he wanted to express his family’s “deep sadness” over the opioid crisis.
“OxyContin is a drug that was meant to help people … too many lives have been destroyed by addiction and opioid abuse, including OxyContin,” Sackler admitted.
But after joining Purdue’s board, where family members held the majority of seats, Sackler said that he “relied on the Purdue management to stay on top of medical science and make sure the company adhered to all laws and regulations ”.
He concluded: “We are very sorry for all those who have lost a family member or suffered the scourge of addiction.”
Kathe Sackler, who is in her early 70s, opened by saying that “hearts break for parents who have lost their children” to overdose, adding: “I am so sorry for your pain and loss.”
Kathe Sackler, a former Purdue Pharma vice president who served on the board of directors from 1990 to 2018, said she “acted honestly and in good faith.”
She said: “I am very distressed and very angry that the drug that was developed to help people and relieve severe pain has been associated with so much human suffering.”
Committee Chairperson and New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney asked Kathe Sackler directly: “Will you apologize to the American people for the role you played in the opioid crisis?”
Sackler said she “would be happy to apologize to the American people for all the pain, suffering and tragedies” and added that she was angry “that some people at Purdue broke the law.”
Maloney pressed Sackler again, saying he had never apologized for his role in the crisis. Sackler responded that when he looked back at his time at Purdue “there is nothing he could have done otherwise.”
Maloney asked David Sackler the same question.
He said: “For the American people, I deeply and deeply regret that OxyContin played a role in any addiction and death … I think I behaved legally and ethically.”
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, called the Sacklers “criminals.”
Committee member Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, said the top Sackler family members who own Purdue collectively made a fortune of about $ 12 billion from OxyContin sales and asked Kathe Sackler if there was “any reason. whereby every dollar “should not be returned to the United States government” for distribution to the victims of Purdue Pharma “- comparing the loot to the $ 12 billion it said the government was searching in assets of the well-known captured Mexican drug lord like El Chapo, who has been sentenced to life in prison.
Sackler did not give a clear answer.
Welch noted that “no one in the Sackler family is in jail and many of us think that is not right.”
Purdue Pharma is in bankruptcy proceedings and settlement negotiations, which Comer characterized as a tactic for the company and its owners to avoid justice.
Parents who lost their children to addiction and overdose after they had been prescribed OxyContin testified about their suffering, as did art photographer and activist Nan Goldin, who said the drug nearly destroyed her career and ran a campaign to shame. to the institutions named for the philanthropy generated by the Sacklers. of OxyContin sales to reject the last name and money.
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