Family members behind Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, to appear before Congress

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FILE – This Oct. 21, 2020 file photo shows Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Two members of the Sackler family have agreed to make a rare public appearance to take questions from a congressional committee that is investigating the role of the company they own, Purdue Pharma, in fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic. The agreement to appear Thursday, Dec. 17 headed off the possibility of the U.S. House Oversight Committee issuing subpoenas. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Two Sackler family members who previously served on OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s board have agreed under pressure to testify Thursday before a congressional committee investigating the family and company’s role in the nationwide opioid epidemic.

David Sackler, who served on the Purdue board from 2012 until 2018, and Kathe Sackler, who served on it from 1990 until 2018, are scheduled to appear at the hearing, which will be conducted by video conference because of coronavirus pandemic precautions. Family members exited the Purdue board in 2018.

The House Oversight Committee hearing is set for Thursday, according to a Monday memo from Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney to members of the panel.

A previous hearing was canceled earlier this month after family members would not commit to appearing. Four family members — David, Richard, Kathe and Mortimer D.A. Sackler — were originally invited by Maloney in November and was declined by family attorneys on Dec. 1. Subsequent overtures to reschedule the hearing to January were ignored.

“Your clients have not agreed to testify at a hearing before the Committee at any time — ever. As a result, it appears that your clients are not engaging in this process in good faith,” Maloney wrote, threatening to issue subpoenas that would force them to appear.

After “numerous consultations” between committee staff and Sackler lawyers, the two sides reached an agreement for the two family members to testify, Maloney said in the memo.

Purdue Chief Executive Craig Landau is also slated to testify at the hearing, the memo said. Landau was not at any point threatened with a subpoena, two people familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D. at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

In a statement, Purdue confirmed that Landau agreed to testify, adding that the company has “consistently cooperated” with the committee. Landau’s testimony will include steps that Purdue is taking to address the opioid crisis, which includes a proposal to settle widespread litigation from U.S. communities that it values at more than $10 billion, the company said.

The opioid crisis has been linked to 470,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000 due to overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal substances such as heroin and fentanyl. Purdue reaped more than $30 billion from opioid sales over the years that enriched Sackler family members, and it funneled illegal kickbacks to doctors and pharmacies, investigations have found.

In her memo, Maloney pointed to documents the committee obtained in an ongoing investigation that she contends show the Sacklers closely involved in Purdue’s efforts to expand market share for OxyContin, even after a company affiliate faced U.S. criminal charges of misbranding the painkiller in 2007.

Federal, state and local officials have outlined a longstanding effort by Purdue and Sackler family members to aggressively market opioids while minimizing their potential for abuse and overdosing. Sackler family members have said they acted ethically and responsibly while relying on assurances from Purdue management that the company’s practices complied with regulations and legal requirements.

The scheduled hearing follows a far-reaching U.S. Justice Department settlement with the Sacklers and Purdue in October that drew criticism from congressional Democrats and state attorneys general suing the company and its owners over the opioid crisis.

The lawmakers and attorneys general have said the deal failed to hold the Sacklers more accountable and faulted its endorsement of a Purdue bankruptcy plan to restructure it as a public benefit company with its proceeds going to combat the addiction crisis. The envisioned new entity, while no longer controlled by the Sacklers, would still sell OxyContin, the company’s addictive prescription painkiller that has figured prominently in the opioid epidemic.

Purdue in November pleaded guilty to criminal charges over its handling of OxyContin, which included defrauding the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and paying illegal kickbacks to doctors and a healthcare records vendor, all to help keep opioid prescriptions flowing. The plea deal, which foregoes most of a $2 billion forfeiture, was part of a broader settlement allowing the company to effectively sidestep paying billions of dollars in penalties.

Justice Department officials have said recent settlements do not foreclose future criminal prosecutions of individuals associated with Purdue.

Members of the Sackler family and Purdue are named as defendants in many lawsuits and investigations seeking to hold perpetrators responsible for fueling the epidemic. Sackler family members agreed to pay $225 million to resolve Justice Department civil claims that they disputed. They were not criminally charged. According to a court filing last year, they made between $12 billion and $13 billion from the company before taxes.

A spokesman for Kathe Sackler declined to comment. A spokesman for David Sackler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thursday’s hearing was originally set for Tuesday but was moved to accommodate schedules, including Purdue bankruptcy proceedings.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. All reporting by AP’s Geoff Mulvihill and Reuters’ Mike Spector.

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