Arizona targets Purdue Pharma, Sackler family in Supreme Court lawsuit over opioid profits

The state of Arizona is going after Purdue Pharma and the family that owns it, filing a lawsuit against them in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Officials are accusing eight members of the Sackler family of taking billions of dollars from Purdue, both as payments to themselves and transfers to other companies they control. The lawsuit alleges the Sacklers moved the money even as they knew the company faced crippling liability over its aggressive OxyContin marketing during the 1990s, which officials have blamed for the opioid crisis.

“This is an urgent situation requiring the type of expeditious resolution that only the Supreme Court can provide,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said. “The clarity of the high court’s ruling and the authority to enforce the judgment throughout the country and internationally will be the most effective path to addressing an issue of this magnitude.”

Purdue and top executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading doctors and patients about OxyContin’s addictive properties. The company paid more than $600 million in fines. Purdue also entered into a consent judgment with Arizona at that time to resolve the state’s investigation into misleading OxyContin marketing.

The company had to pay a $19.5 million fine to Arizona and 25 other states, and it was prohibited from marketing oxycodone painkillers in deceptive ways.

But that didn’t stop the spread of opioids in Arizona. Opioid-related deaths in Arizona have risen 76 percent since 2013, according to state officials. In 2017, when there were 928 opioid-related deaths in the state, drug providers wrote 61.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 residents.

Court filings obtained by The Washington Post last month showed 76 billion opioid pills were distributed to pharmacies across the U.S. between 2006 and 2012.

Drugmakers like Purdue are facing numerous lawsuits over the role they’ve been accused of playing in the opioid crisis.

Purdue, with the knowledge and approval of the Sacklers, “continued to market its opioids illegally through a marketing campaign that was designed to aggressively increase sales,” the new lawsuit alleges.

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In a separate state court filing, officials are also seeking $25,000 per violation in civil penalties from Purdue in another case alleging the company violated the terms of the consent judgment.

In the Supreme Court case, state officials are accusing the Sacklers of intentional fraudulent conveyance and constructive fraudulent conveyance. Brnovich said he took the case to the nation’s highest court because the opioid crisis has reached national importance.

In a statement, Purdue said the Supreme Court is "an improper forum" for this case.

"This petition was filed solely for the purpose of leapfrogging other similar lawsuits, and we expect the court will see it as such," the company said.

“It is unconscionable that companies responsible for fueling this crisis might escape paying restitution to victims by transferring billions of dollars made on opioid sales to company owners and then possibly filing for bankruptcy,” Brnovich said. “Those responsible for the opioid crisis must be held accountable and the Sacklers’ pilfering of Purdue’s assets must be remedied.”