Sackler family behind OxyContin make rare appearance at congressional hearing


One of the owners of the company that makes OxyContin says she wouldn’t have done anything differently despite acknowledging during a congressional hearing that the powerful prescription painkiller has played a role in the national opioid crisis.

Kathe Sackler and her cousin David Sackler, who are members of the family that owns Purdue Pharma, made a rare public appearance on Thursday during a fiery congressional hearing before the House Oversight Committee.

While the two, who both previously served on the company’s board, acknowledged that the powerful prescription painkiller has played a role in the national opioid crisis, they stopped short of apologizing for their roles or admitting wrongdoing.

When asked if she would apologize for any role she has played in the crisis, Kathe said she had struggled with the question of whether she could have done anything differently for years.  

‘I have tried to figure out if there’s anything that I could have done differently knowing what I knew then, not what I know now,’ she said.  

‘I have to say that there’s nothing that I can find that I would have done differently based on what I believed and understood then.’ 

David Sackler

Kathe Sackler and David Sackler, who are members of the family that owns Purdue Pharma, made a rare appearance in a public forum on Thursday during a congressional hearing before the House Oversight Committee

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican, noted that OxyContin sales revenue increased even after the company pleaded guilty to crimes for improper marketing of the drug. 

‘You want to ask what you could have done differently?’ she asked. ‘Look at your own damn balance sheet.’

Kathe told the hearing that she knows ‘the loss of any family member or loved one is terribly painful and nothing is more tragic than the loss of a child’.

‘As a mother my heart breaks for the parents who have lost their children. I am so terribly sorry for your pain.’  

Kathe’s cousin, David, noted during the hearing that OxyContin had helped ‘millions of Americans’. 

‘I want to express my family’s deep sadness about the opioid crisis,’ he told the hearing. ‘OxyContin is a medicine that Purdue intended to help people, and it has helped, and continues to help, millions of Americans.’ 

David also said that he had acted ‘legally and ethically’ while serving on Purdue’s board.  

Kathe and David, who are descendants of two of the three brothers who bought Purdue nearly 70 years ago, appeared before the committee in a video hearing held amid COVID-19 restrictions. 

It is the first time in years that any member of the wealthy Sackler family have taken questions in public from an official body. They appeared before the hearing after the committee’s chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, threatened to issue subpoenas. 

Both Kathe and David were hammered with questions from lawmakers throughout the hearing over Purdue’s role in the national opioid addiction and overdose epidemic. 

They were repeatedly asked if they personally took any responsibility for the crisis.

The committee members, from both political parties, were unmoved by the Sacklers’ explanations and blasted them repeatedly. Many accused the Sackler family of turning a blind eye to the crisis by profiting from OxyContin.  

‘Watching you testify makes my blood boil,’ said Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat. ‘I’m not sure that I’m aware of any family in America that´s more evil than yours.’   

The congressional committee is investigating the Sackler family and the company's role in the national opioid addiction and overdose epidemic. The family owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma

The congressional committee is investigating the Sackler family and the company’s role in the national opioid addiction and overdose epidemic. The family owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma 

President and CEO of Purdue Pharma Craig Landau also testified on Thursday during the hearing

President and CEO of Purdue Pharma Craig Landau also testified on Thursday during the hearing

The hearing came three weeks after Purdue pleaded guilty to three criminal charges as part of a sweeping settlement with the Department of Justice.

The company agreed to pay more than $8 billion in forfeitures and penalties, while members of the Sackler family would have to pay $225 million to the government. No family member would be criminally prosecuted under the Justice Department settlement, although the deal leaves open that possibility.  

The settlement requires the company to hand over just $225 million of the $8 billion total to the government as long as Purdue makes good on plans to settle thousands of lawsuits filed by state and local governments, a matter that is now in bankruptcy court. 

State and local governments blame the company’s marketing efforts for contributing to an opioid addiction and overdose crisis that has been linked to 470,000 deaths in the US over the past two decades.

The Stamford, Connecticut-based company and the Sacklers have proposed resolving the lawsuits by transforming Purdue into a public benefit corporation, with its profits used to combat the opioid epidemic.

Some members of Congress and attorneys general for about half the states oppose that plan, which includes a requirement for Sackler family members to pay at least $3 billion in addition to giving up control of the company. 

Court documents show they have received more than $12 billion from Purdue since OxyContin was released. 

A third branch of the family sold its stake in the company before the blockbuster painkiller was developed in the 1990s. 

David Sackler told the committee on Thursday that the value of the company plus the $3 billion the family would contribute add up to more than the family received from OxyContin. 

He also noted that about half of what family members took out of the company was paid in taxes.  

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