A Secret Opioid Memo That May Have Slowed an Epidemic

Producer/Director John Pappas

A confidential authorities doc containing proof so crucial it had the potential to vary the course of an American tragedy was saved at the hours of darkness for greater than a decade. The doc, referred to as a “prosecution memo,” particulars how authorities legal professionals believed that Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly effective opioid, OxyContin, knew early on that the drug was fueling an increase in abuse and habit. Additionally they gathered proof indicating that the corporate’s executives had misled the general public and Congress.

“The Weekly” shines a lightweight on that 2006 Justice Division memo and its penalties for at present’s wave of lawsuits in opposition to opioid makers and members of the Sackler household, which owns Purdue Pharma. We go together with Barry Meier, the New York Instances reporter who for twenty years has chronicled how opioid abuse has ravaged America, as he travels again to the place the disaster started.

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Prosecutors cited proof of their 2006 memo that Sackler members of the family who personal Purdue have been despatched studies about issues with the corporate’s medication. However that proof by no means got here to gentle as a result of the advisable felony fees in opposition to Purdue executives by no means went ahead.

As an alternative, three executives, beneath a cope with the federal government, pleaded responsible to a misdemeanor that didn’t accuse them of wrongdoing. That they had insisted they did nothing mistaken, and the corporate denied there was a cover-up, saying that executives didn’t study of issues with OxyContin till 2000. Prosecutors, of their memo, didn’t accuse the Sacklers of any wrongdoing and Dr. Richard Sackler has since testified he was unaware of any unlawful actions at Purdue.

What follows are annotated excerpts from that memo utilized in reporting for this episode of “The Weekly.”

Superior Warning

Prosecutors wrote that Purdue coated up OxyContin’s early abuse. Its executives mentioned they solely discovered about the issue in early 2000.

Advertising and marketing

Dr. Sackler apparently pushed in 1997, prosecutors wrote, for movies selling OxyContin in response to “considerations raised in regards to the abuse potential.”

Potential for Abuse

Prosecutors believed that Purdue had hid widespread abuse of OxyContin’s predecessor drug, MS Contin. It too was a long-acting opioid, a formulation that Purdue claimed made OxyContin much less susceptible to abuse.

Web Chatter

Dr. Sackler was despatched an e mail in 1999, prosecutors discovered, that mentioned how individuals in web chat rooms have been speaking about snorting OxyContin.

Rick Mountcastle, who led the Justice Division investigation into Purdue Pharma, moved from the Abingdon, Va., workplace to Roanoke after that case in 2007. He continued as an assistant U.S. legal professional, and served for 15 months as U.S. Lawyer for the Western District of Virginia till President Trump appointed a brand new U.S. legal professional in 2018. Mountcastle retired from the Justice Division final December.

Paul Pelletier, a former deputy chief of the fraud part on the felony division of the Justice Division, left the federal government in 2011 and is a lawyer in personal observe in Northern Virginia. He ran for Congress in 2018 as a Democrat in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, however misplaced within the major.

Maura Healey, the legal professional normal of Massachusetts, leads one of many many lawsuits filed in opposition to Purdue, its executives and members of the Sackler household. Earlier this 12 months, she launched emails from 2001 wherein Dr. Richard Sackler blamed drug abusers for the corporate’s issues. “We’ve to hammer on the abusers in each doable method,” Sackler wrote. Two weeks in the past, Purdue’s legal professionals requested a decide in Massachusetts to dismiss the case.

The Sackler household bought the corporate that will change into Purdue Pharma within the 1950s, and among the household’s heirs, who made a fortune from gross sales of OxyContin, at the moment are defendants in lawsuits introduced in opposition to the corporate for its position in fueling the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers have donated generously to museums around the globe, however a few of these establishments — together with the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork and the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate museums in London, and the Louvre in Paris — have sought to sever ties with the household.

Negotiations over a possible settlement between states and cities attempting to deal with an epidemic of opioid abuse and the drugmakers who helped feed the epidemic has stalled.

The seeds of at present’s epidemic have been planted when Purdue launched OxyContin and marketed the highly effective drug as a remedy for every kind of ache. Barry reported on proof indicating that the corporate’s executives knew in regards to the drug’s rising abuse a lot sooner than they mentioned.

A sealed 2015 deposition by Richard Sackler of Purdue Pharma seems to be inconsistent with proof contained within the 2006 Justice Division memo.

Throughout his reporting on the memo, Barry was shocked to seek out his personal title included within the confidential doc.

Over the previous twenty years, greater than 200,000 individuals have died in the US from overdoses involving prescription opioids. States and cities proceed to file a wave of lawsuits in opposition to Purdue Pharma and different opioid producers and distributors.

Director of Images: Andreas Burgess
Extra Cinematography: Vanessa Carr
Video Editor: Pierre Takal
Senior Story Editors: Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen, and Liz Day
Affiliate Producer: Madeline Rosenberg

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