Drug company Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, will plead guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. OxyContin has been tied to the opioid epidemic linked to 470,000 deaths in the country over the past two decades. The deal reached does not indemnify any of the company’s executives or owners from criminal liability amid an ongoing criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the owners, all members of the Sackler family, claim they acted "ethically and lawfully," according to the Associated Press.
According to the Justice Department, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate federal anti-kickback laws, all of which will be detailed in a bankruptcy court filing in federal court. According to officials, the Sacklers will also lose all control over their company, with Purdue becoming a public benefit company governed by a trust balancing the interests of public health against business interests.
By pleading guilty, Purdue admits it impeded the Drug Enforcement Administration, lying about maintaining an effective program to avoid drug diversion and reporting misleading information to the agency to boost manufacturing quotas. The company is also admitting to violating federal anti-kickback laws by paying doctors through speaking programs to get them to write more prescriptions for the company’s opioids and using electronic health records software to influence their pain medication prescription.
As part of the settlement, Purdue will pay the government $225 million as part of a $2 billion criminal forfeiture. In addition to that, Purdue could be slapped with a $3.54 billion criminal fine, although that would be wiped through a bankruptcy. Purdue also plans to agree to $2.8 billion in damages to resolve its civil liability. According to the plea deal, the company also admits it violated federal law and "knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the dispensing of medication from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice."
"Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice in the agreed statement of facts," Steve Miller, chairman of the company’s board, said in a statement, as per the AP. Sackler family members added in a statement they had "deep compassion for people who suffer from opioid addiction and abuse and hope the proposal will be implemented as swiftly as possible to help address their critical needs."