Some of the seeds of today's opioid crisis were sown at the 1995 launch party of OxyContin, where Purdue Pharma exec Richard Sackler promised "a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition," according to a memo filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. She accuses Sackler and seven other members of one of America's richest families of aggressively marketing the opioid painkiller while ignoring warnings and deceiving the public about its highly addictive properties, NPR reports. "The company hired hundreds of sales representatives and taught them false claims to use to sell drugs," including the claim that the addiction risk was less than 1%, the complaint states.
The filing states that Sackler, a son of one of the company's founders, micro-managed sales reps, urging them to maximize profits by persuading doctors to prescribe the highest dosage of the drug, the New York Times reports. He dismissed reports of mounting overdose deaths, saying it "could have been far worse" after a 2001 report that there were 59 OxyContin deaths in Massachusetts alone. As Purdue Pharma president in 2001, he pushed hard to blame abusers for the problem. "We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” he wrote in an email. "They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals." Massachusetts is among more than 1,000 jurisdictions suing Purdue Pharma or members of the Sackler family over the devastation caused by opioid addiction, the Guardian reports. (Sackler recently broke the irony record with a patent.)