Former head of Purdue Pharma defends company's marketing of OxyContin in video deposition

The deposition was obtained by investigative news organization ProPublica.

In a newly obtained video deposition, the former head of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma defended the company and the marketing of their signature pain killer: OxyContin.

For the first time, the public is seeing and hearing from Dr. Richard Sackler, the former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma, responding to questions in a deposition under oath. The company, best known as the developer of OxyContin, is owned by some members of the billionaire Sackler family.

The more than eight-hour video deposition from 2015 was obtained by the investigative news organization ProPublica. The deposition was part of a suit brought against Purdue Pharma by the state of Kentucky that Purdue Pharma settled for more than $20 million.

In the course of the deposition, Sackler responds "I don't know" more than 100 times.

While Sackler said he does not know how much the family has made off the sale of OxyContin, when he is asked if it's fair to say it is over $1 billion, he responds "It would be fair to say that. Yes."

The company was accused in the suit of falsely promoting OxyContin, including failing to alert doctors that it was stronger than morphine.

Sackler is asked if he thinks that "if physicians thought it was stronger or equal to morphine ... much less, twice as strong as morphine, that they would be less likely to write prescriptions and sales of OxyContin would go down?"

"No. Uh, if it, if its personality was changed, if it was stigmatized as an end of life drug, it could limit its usefulness. The term stronger here meant more threatening, more frightening," Sackler said in the deposition. "There is no way that this intended or had the effect of causing physicians to overlook the fact that it was twice as potent. It was called out in virtually every promotional piece of literature."

Sackler said he does not believe that any of Purdue's conduct has led to an increase in people being addicted in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

"These tapes represent the first time that the public will see a member of the Sackler family ... be questioned about whether or not Purdue Pharma played a role in spawning the national opioid crisis," David Armstrong, senior reporter at ProPublica, told "Good Morning America."

On Monday, after a 3 1/2 year legal battle brought by "STAT" -- part of the Boston Globe Life Sciences Media - the Kentucky Supreme Court authorized the release of the court records relating to Purdue Pharma's marketing of OxyContin.

Asked to comment on portions of Dr. Sackler’s 2015 deposition being broadcast on Good Morning America, his legal counsel replied; "Dr. Sackler testified again this March and these excerpts you've selected represent a very small portion of his extensive comments about the history, benefits, and risks of OxyContin, which has carried a black box warning since 2001, has had an abuse deterrent formulation since 2010, and is approved by the FDA for the treatment of chronic pain."

Purdue Pharma is facing more than 2,000 other lawsuits but maintain they are not responsible for fueling the opioid crisis.