Richard Sackler denies responsibility for the opioid crisis

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Richard Sackler denies responsibility for the opioid crisis

The former president and board chair of Purdue Pharma pleaded on Wednesday in front of a court that his family is not responsible for the opioid crisis in the United States.

Richard Sackler, a member of the family who owns the company, was asked whether each bears responsibility during a federal bankruptcy hearing in White Plains, New York, over whether a judge should accept the OxyContin maker's plan to settle thousands of lawsuits.

For each question he gave a one-word answer: "No?"

Richard Sackler's denial of responsibility for the opioid crisis comes a day after another Sackler family member said the group wouldn't 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, Connecticut-based company of a major role in sparking a nationwide opioid epidemic.

In the 1996 event that launched OxyContin sales he told the company's sales force that there would be a blizzard of prescriptions which will bury the competition.

Five years later, as it was apparent that the powerful pain drug was being misused in some cases, he said in an email that Purdue would have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible, describing them as the culprits and the problem.

For those reasons, activists crusading against companies dealing in opioids often see Richard Sackler — who was president of the company from 1999 to 2003, chair of its board from 2004 through 2007, and a member of the board from 1990 until 2018 : with a good reputation as a villain.

He has not appeared in recent years in public forums outside video of a deposition he gave in a lawsuit in 2015.

On Wednesday at videoconference a hearing conducted by Sackler, now 76, said that he had laryngitis and his voice was sometimes soft.

In response to more than three hours of questions, most likely from Maryland Assistant Attorney General Brian Edmunds, his most common answer was, I don't recall.

Sackler, whose father was one of three brothers who almost 70 years ago bought the company that later became Purdue Pharma, didn't remember emails he wrote a decade or more ago; whether Purdue board approved certain sales strategies and whether a company owned by Sackler family members sold 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.

He frequently answered questions with more questions, asking for precision.

When Edmunds asked him if he knew how many people in the U.S. had died from opioid use, Sackler asked him to specify for which period.

I don't know, Sackler said. He said that he had looked at some data on deaths in the past, however.

At another point, Edmunds asked whether he had ever had conversation with sales managers.

Sackler asked.

Then Nackler said he didn't recall any such conversations.

At one point Edmunds asked about a disagreement over company sales targets. You used the word dispute, he said. It wasn't a disagreement. David Sackler's testimony came a day after his son Sackler testified.

The younger Sackler, who also served on Purdue board, reiterated something that has long been the family's position: They will not accept their part of the plan to restructure Purdue except if family members receive protection from lawsuits over opioids and other purdue action.

If the provisions do not stay in the deal, David Sackler said, the family would instead face lawsuits. I believe we would litigate the claims to their final outcome, said Mr. Huertas.

On Wednesday, Richard Sackler said the family would not agree if states that oppose the deal were not bound by it and allowed to move forward with suits against the company and family members.

Under the proposed settlement, members of the Sackler family would give up ownership of Purdue and contribute $4.5 billion in cash and control of charitable funds over time. Most of the money, along with Purdue's future profits, would be used to address the opioid crisis. Some would go to individual victims and their families.

Judge Robert Drain said on Wednesday that he expected testimony to be completed Thursday, final arguments to begin after Monday and a decision later next week.