More than two decades after it started marketing OxyContin, Purdue Pharma on Tuesday admitted its tactics contributed to the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic that has been blamed for hundreds of thousands of American deaths.
Purdue pleaded guilty during a video hearing before a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey, to conspiracy charges that stemmed from the company’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin and other opioid products.
The plea to three felonies -- conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of conspiracy to violate the federal anti-kickback statute -- was part of a settlement with the Justice Department that required Purdue to pay more than $8 billion, though the actual amount will likely be far less and determined through bankruptcy.
Purdue Chairman Steve Miller, who was appointed in 2018, entered the guilty plea on the company’s behalf, conceding Purdue failed to account for 1.4 million OxyContin prescriptions written by questionable providers.
"Did Purdue knowingly and intentionally conspire with others to defraud the DEA?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Ferketic.
"Yes," Miller replied.
"Did Purdue offer payments to health care providers in the form of speakers fees?” Ferketic later asked. Miller again replied, "Yes."
“How does Purdue Pharma LP plead to the charges?” asked Judge Madeline Cox Arleo.
"Guilty, your honor," Miller responded.
Critics say that a separate deal with members of the Sackler family, who owned the company and made an estimated $10 billion from OxyContin, is too lenient since they will not admit to wrongdoing and face zero charges as part of the settlement.
Purdue Pharma said it knowingly and willfully offered payments to health care providers to induce them to write more prescriptions of its opioid products.
It also admitted to aiding and abetting the dispensing of opioids without a legitimate medical purpose or valid prescription and failing to provide the Drug Enforcement Administration with accurate information about OxyContin.
Until it stopped marketing opioids in February 2018, prosecutors said Purdue sought to increase sales by sending sales representatives to prescribers' offices and pharmacies to deliver company-developed messaging, give the prescribers meals and marketing materials and provide information about pharmacies stocking Purdue opioids.
The settlement agreement quoted an executive who said in a September 2010 presentation to Purdue’s sales supervisors: "As I have stated several times, we know increases in the prescriber call average will have the single largest impact of anything you can do to increase prescriptions of Purdue products with our core and super core prescribers."
During an all-day hearing in a White Plains, New York, bankruptcy court last week on Tuesday, a judge authorized the settlement between Purdue and the DOJ.