A member of the family that owns Purdue Pharma — which is being sued by more than 1,000 jurisdictions for its alleged role in seeding the opioid crisis with its pain medication OxyContin — has been awarded a patent for a treatment for opioid use disorder.
Dr. Richard Sackler is listed as one of six inventors on the patent, which was issued in January and was first reported Friday by the Financial Times. Critics told the FT that they were disturbed that the patent could enable Sackler to benefit financially from the addiction crisis that his family’s company is accused of fueling.
Purdue has denied the allegations in the lawsuits, which also target a range of other opioid painkiller manufacturers and distributors.
The patent concerns a new formulation of buprenorphine, one of the medications shown to help people with opioid addiction. It is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration in tablet and film form, but the patent describes a wafer that could dissolve even faster than existing forms when put under the tongue.
The patent says that the faster the treatment dissolves, the less risk there is for diversion.
Sackler is the past president of Purdue; his father was one of three brothers who founded the company. The family has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to museums and schools and hospitals around the world, but has increasingly come under scrutiny amid the opioid crisis.
In addition to the more than 1,000 lawsuits against Purdue from cities, state, counties, and tribes — most of which have been consolidated in an Ohio federal court — a case brought by Massachusetts recently named the Sackler family as defendants.
Meanwhile, Congress has requested from Purdue a copy of a deposition from Sackler that was taken as part of a lawsuit brought by Kentucky against Purdue. The case was settled in 2015, but it 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 the company knew about the addictive properties of the pain reliever.
In a lawsuit in Kentucky, STAT has also sought to obtain a copy of the deposition.
The description in the patent warns that people who are addicted to drugs sometimes commit crimes to feed their habit, which is why it says improved forms of medication-assisted treatment are needed. Some of the lawsuits against Purdue and the other opioid companies have cited the public safety and law enforcement costs associated with addiction.
The description of the patent says the form of buprenorphine could also be used to treat pain in people or animals.
Purdue declined to comment on the patent.
Separately, Purdue has been trying to show it is taking steps to address the addiction crisis. It has backed safer prescribing efforts and donated money to the National Sheriffs’ Association to purchase naloxone and train law enforcement on its use. This week, it contributed $3.4 million to a company working on a low-cost naloxone nasal spray.