Among the documents House lawmakers requested last week from opioid painkiller manufacturers is a deposition of the former president of Purdue Pharma — Dr. Richard Sackler — which is also being sought by STAT through the courts in Kentucky.
The letters, sent Thursday by a bipartisan group of members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to Purdue, Mallinckrodt, and Insys Therapeutics, ask for a broad range of documents related to the companies’ marketing strategies and what they knew about their drugs’ potential for abuse and when. But the letter to Purdue also specifies that the committee wants to see an unredacted copy of the deposition by Sackler, who is also a member of the family that owns the company.
The deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit brought by Kentucky against Purdue alleging that the marketing of the company’s drug OxyContin contributed to a spate of addiction and crime. The case was settled in December 2015, with Purdue paying $24 million. While the state attorney general’s office destroyed its copies of Purdue documents as part of the settlement, STAT filed a motion to unseal copies of several documents — including the Sackler deposition — that remained in the Pike County courthouse in Eastern Kentucky.
The deposition is believed to be the only time a member of the Sackler family has been questioned under oath about the marketing of OxyContin and what they knew about the addictive properties of the pain reliever.
The Sacklers have made billions from the sale of OxyContin and other drugs, and they have used some of those profits to make gifts to museums and universities around the world, cementing their reputation as major philanthropists.
STAT filed its motion in March 2016, and a local Kentucky judge ordered the documents unsealed in May of that year. Purdue appealed to a state appeals court, and at a hearing in June 2017, the presiding judge said the panel aimed to issue its ruling within 45 days.
It has now been over a year and the appellate panel still has not released its ruling.
A Purdue spokesman told STAT that the company would cooperate with the House committee’s investigation but did not answer whether the company would comply with the request for the deposition.
The House letter was signed by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chair of the committee, and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), its ranking member, as well as the chair, vice chair, ranking member, and vice ranking member of its oversight and investigations subcommittee.
The letter signaled a willingness among House Republicans to investigate drug manufacturers and their role in the opioid crisis at a time when some of their Senate colleagues have balked. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told STAT in May that he didn’t want to investigate the drug makers while they are being sued by hundreds of states, cities, counties, and tribes.
“I don’t like competing with other committees’ jurisdictions or actions on this thing, in this case the courts,” Johnson said then. “They’re going to do a really good job of discovery and these issues will be fully vetted in the courts.”
The letter from the House lawmakers makes clear they intend to scrutinize drug makers’ contributions to the epidemic. Citing the “potential breakdowns in the controlled substances supply chain” the committee is investigating, the letter notes that “pharmaceutical manufacturers play a unique and critical role in this supply chain.”