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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.

  • Completely pointless to have it in wafer form. Buprenorphine is prescribed to addicts to take home with them. It will be diverted whether or not it is in a pill a film or a wafer. The clinics that offer on site methadone or bupe really do not rx the bupe because people will not waste their time going somewhere daily for bupe when it can be prescribed easily by any addiction doc to take home with them.. where they can then sell on the street….

    • This is more like someone trying to get a patent on something already existing in hopes that they too can make a buck. I love how they patent claims a wafer would be less diverted without explaining as to why being Bupe is not like Methadone where you need to go somewhere daily to receive it. Where you get a prescription for Suboxone (Brand name Bupe) and receive 60 at a time…. :facepalm

  • In the early 60s my grandfather, a physician,told me the use of pain killers was a temporary regimen to be terminated as quickly as possible after injury or surgery.
    I have watched members of my family wrestle for years with pain management and the proliferation of readily available prescriptive dependence inducing products.
    I currently watch my son, his wife and family wrestle with a methodone habit which drives them to poverty in that there is no support for termination of this dependence.
    Drug policy in America appears to be fix it with a pill; but with very little effort to rehabilitate, offer economic support to finally free ourselves of this debilitating dependence.
    Meanwhile I have witnessed in my 70 plus years a war with mandatory sentencing on marijuana which as time is proving is in no way on par with other class one drugs such as heroin or oxycontin.
    Drug policy, manufacture, distribution and the willingness to promote these addictive substances has resulted in reported deaths at epidemic levels.
    The surrounding decimation of family and personal values not to mention the economic destruction to a large portion of America is criminal.
    No mandatory sentencing. No real on the ground support to end methadone corrective pharmaceutical fixes has crippled a segment of our society.
    What the hell happened when we put profit ahead of general health care?

    • He is lying if he is in poverty and claims he is on Methadone. Many addicts just use the methadone to get by inbetween highs. I am former Methadone patient and after abusing heroin for 10 years and 5 of which I was on methadone when I finally quit using all drugs and went daily to receive the Methadone and worked a job and lived a normal life I was able to ween off the methadone and in the process I established my own business and bought a house in a 3 year period at the age of 33. I spent my entire late teens and all of my 20s addicted to Heroin it is all I did with my life was buy and use and sell heroin. If your son leaves the wife I bet he could get clean on his own and show his kids a better life. I’ve seen it all and human behavior remains the same same movie different actors. Many addicts lives are reboots of anothers it seems.

  • I truly thought that STAT and its comments section would include high minded and ethical people able to disagree without taking it to the lowest level. I don’t know if i feel worse about the greedy Sackler’s or my fellow Americans

    • Yes, this in not new, it has been around much longer than a year. I don’t see how changing the patent to disolve quicker will address the opiate pandemic or help diversion. I think the history of Purdue’s marketing plan addresses their true motive, MONEY. They shouldnt be given a patent, they should be given orange jumpsuits. Just saying…

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