By Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) – Members of the Sackler family behind OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP have asked a judge to toss a lawsuit by the Massachusetts attorney general that claims they helped fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic, arguing it contains “misleading and inflammatory allegations.”
The wealthy family in a motion on Monday argued that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit mischaracterized internal records to create the “false impression” they personally directed privately-held Purdue’s marketing of painkillers.
Her lawsuit, filed in June in Suffolk County Superior Court and revised earlier this year to include new allegations, was the first by a state to try to hold Sackler family members personally responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic.
The case is among roughly 2,000 lawsuits filed mostly by state and local governments seeking to hold Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid crisis.
Opioids were involved in a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healey’s complaint cites records to argue that family members, including Purdue’s former President Richard Sackler, personally directed deceptive opioid marketing while making $4.2 billion from Purdue from 2008 to 2016.
They did so even after Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties, the lawsuit said.
But in their motion, the Sacklers said nothing in the complaint supports allegations they personally took part in efforts to mislead doctors and the public about the benefits and addictive risks of opioids.
They said their role was limited to that of typical corporate board members who participated in “routine” votes to ratify the management’s staffing and budget proposals.
“Not a single document shows an individual director engaging in any unlawful conduct regarding the sale of prescription opioids or ordering anyone else to do so,” the Sacklers’ lawyers wrote.
Healey, in a statement, called the motion “an attempt to avoid accountability.”
At least 35 states have cases pending against Purdue. Four have also named Sackler family members as defendants, including Richard Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Mortimer D.A. Sackler.
Last week, Purdue reached its first settlement in the recent wave of lawsuits, agreeing with the Sacklers to a $270 million deal with Oklahoma’s attorney general. Oklahoma’s lawsuit did not name Sacklers as defendants.
Purdue had been exploring filing for bankruptcy before the accord’s announcement, Reuters reported in early March.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Noeleen Walder, Tom Brown and Bill Berkrot)