The House Oversight Committee is asking Purdue Pharma for documents that could shine a light on the billionaire family that owns the company and its alleged role in the opioid crisis.
In a letter to Purdue CEO Craig Landau, Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s chairman, and Mark DeSaulnier of California asked for a list of Sacklers who had served on the board of Purdue or worked as company officers. The lawmakers are also seeking documents prepared for the Sackler family about the company’s marketing strategies for its medications and communications between company employees and family members.
Purdue is fending off increasing accusations that it misled prescribers and patients about the safety of its drugs and helped ignite the addiction crisis. It is a defendant in hundreds of lawsuits from cities, counties, states, and tribes tied to the opioid epidemic.
But the investigations have recently turned to the Sackler family as well, who for years were more prominently known for their philanthropic donations to museums and medical institutions than as the family behind Purdue. That changed in part because a lawsuit from the Massachusetts attorney general named members of the family as defendants, in addition to the company and company executives.
The lawsuit alleges that certain family members were intimately involved in the company’s sales tactics and marketing strategies, to the point that employees complained about the pressure to executives. Family members demanded better sales numbers from the staff and in 2011, Dr. Richard Sackler, a onetime president of the company, shadowed sales representatives for a week, according to the lawsuit.
The lawmakers’ letter cites a portion of the Massachusetts lawsuit that says members of the family “directed deceptive sales and marketing practices deep within Purdue.”
In a statement Thursday, Purdue said: “The company looks forward to responding to the Chairman’s letter. The challenges posed by the opioid crisis are substantial and we are committed to doing our part to help find and achieve solutions.” In past statements, it has said the Massachusetts lawsuit mischaracterizes company documents and cherry-picked details in an attempt to vilify the company. In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Purdue argued that the Massachusetts lawsuit lacks the factual foundation or legal merits to support its claims.
Last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee also requested a trove of Purdue documents, but the new request is notable in its focus on the Sackler family.
The Sackler family “always held the controlling majority” of the company’s board, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit. But after the suit was filed, a number of family members left the board.
The Sacklers have made billions from the sale of OxyContin and the company’s medications. Meanwhile, Landau, the company’s current CEO, told the Washington Post this month that the company is considering bankruptcy as it faces the onslaught of legal claims.
This story has been updated with a comment from Purdue.