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New York Attorney General Targets Sackler Family


New York State's attorney general is calling out members of the Sackler family, calling them the, quote, "masterminds" of a scheme that led to the national opioid epidemic. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, which makes the drug OxyContin. They are one of the richest families in America. A sweeping new lawsuit that was filed yesterday says the family hid some of the money it made off Oxycontin, and the state wants them to hand it over. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Not so long ago, the Sackler family was one of the most respected in the country - top-tier philanthropists, their name on museums, galleries and university buildings. Yesterday, the Sackler name landed in the middle of a 250-page civil suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James.


LETITIA JAMES: This lawsuit contains detailed allegations about the Sackler family and their attempts to hide the vast fortunes they collected at the expense of actual lives.

MANN: The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, a privately-held company that helped popularize opioid pain medications, beginning in the 1990s. The company convinced doctors, pharmacists and government regulators the drugs could be used safely. In the decades since, 200,000 Americans have died from prescription opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A growing wave of lawsuits filed around the country claimed Purdue Pharma's executives knew the deadly risks and concealed them. New York's lawsuit goes a step further, claiming members of the Sackler family knew the company might someday be asked to pay restitution. So they allegedly worked to hide hundreds of millions of dollars in opioid profits.


JAMES: They continue to move funds into trusts and, yes, offshore accounts to be out of the reach of any potential recovery. And so for the first time, our lawsuit includes fraudulent conveyance claims against Purdue and the Sackler family.

MANN: In a statement sent to NPR, the Sackler family strongly denied wrongdoing and said they would fight this suit, adding, quote, "we have always acted properly." But the Sacklers face growing scrutiny for their active role leading Purdue Pharma. In January, the Massachusetts attorney general also named eight family members in that state's civil lawsuit. And just this week, as part of a settlement with Oklahoma's attorney general, the Sacklers agreed to contribute $75 million of their private wealth to create a new opioid treatment and research facility. The family's liability in New York could be much higher. Again, Attorney General Letitia James.


JAMES: We're looking for substantial payments for the defendants to fund an abatement program that will provide treatment to New Yorkers suffering from opioid use disorder.

MANN: New York's lawsuit singles out the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma, but it also names other companies involved in the manufacture and sale of opioids. If the suit is successful, firms could be forced to compensate state and local governments in New York that spend more than a billion dollars a year on law enforcement, drug rehab and health costs stemming from the opioid crisis. Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.