Former Purdue Pharma CEO called opioid addicts 'victimizers' in 2001 email

PHOTO: In this file photo bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin pills, made by Purdue Pharma LP sit on a counter at a local pharmacy in Provo, Utah, April 25, 2017.PlayGeorge Frey/Reuters, FILE
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Former chief executive officer of opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma Richard Sackler wrote an email to a friend in 2001 calling opioid abusers "victimizers" and "criminals" and complained that "calling drug addicts 'scum of the earth' will guarantee that I become the poster child for liberals who want to distribute the blame to someone else," according to previously-undisclosed documents attached to a lawsuit against Purdue from the state of Connecticut.

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The email exchanges have been added in un-redacted form to court documents filed this week in the state of Connecticut’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.

A top Connecticut state official said that the email exchanges "encapsulate the depraved indifference to human suffering that infected Purdue's entire business model.”

An attorney for Sackler confirmed through a spokeswoman the authenticity of the email exchanges but said they were written long ago and taken out of context.

Sackler “has apologized for using insensitive language that doesn’t reflect what he actually did," attorney David Bernick said. "These emails were written two decades ago following news reports about criminal activity involving prescription opioids, such as drug store robberies. Dr. Sackler was expressing his worry that this news coverage would stigmatize an essential FDA-approved medication that doctors feel is critical for treating their patients in pain. The same concern from twenty years ago exists today."

In the exchange, the acquaintance wrote that “Abusers die, hell that is the choice they made."

Sackler responded that “Abusers aren’t victims; they are the victimizers.”

In another exchange in which the pair complain about manufacturers being blamed for opioid abuse, the acquaintance said “You know what the general ignorant public will say, do away with the drug!! Blame the manufacturers, doctors, pharmacist, but NEVER, NEVER THE CRIMINAL…if people die because they abuse it then good riddance.”

“Unfortunately," Sackler responded, "when I’m ambushed by 60 Minutes I can’t easily get this concept across. Calling drug addicts ‘scum of the earth’ will guarantee that I become the poster child for liberals who want to distribute the blame to someone else.”

Connecticut, along with a number of other states, sued Purdue in December 2018, alleging the company pushed patients toward OxyContin even as opioid addictions skyrocketed. The company recently settled a lawsuit with Oklahoma for $270 million.

Illinois' attorney general also filed a lawsuit against the company earlier this month.

In an excerpt of a deposition that Sackler gave in March as part of a multi-district litigation, Sackler said he now knows more than he once did about opioid addiction.

"Of course, my -- I’ve gotten a lot more information about addiction in general and opiate -- or opioid addiction in particular, and of course, my views have evolved and changed," Sackler said, according to the excerpt.

Connecticut attorney general William Tong indicated in a statement that the comments were infuriating to him.

"Richard Sackler's outrageous comments show an utter disregard for human life,” Tong said in a statement accompanying the release of the un-redacted complaint.

“These emails are far more than a momentary lapse in judgment between friends -- they encapsulate the depraved indifference to human suffering that infected Purdue's entire business model.”

"Purdue and defendant members of the Sackler family knew people were dying, but they continued to push their opioids in blind pursuit of profit. Purdue and the Sacklers must be held accountable," said Tong.

Tong’s lawsuit named the company, members of the controlling Sackler family and others and alleged fraudulent transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from Purdue Pharma to the Sacklers to evade liability.

The lawsuit seeks to claw back funds transferred from Purdue to the Sacklers, as well as a court order to prevent any further transfer of funds.

The company has accused the different states of cherry-picking the most damning information from their internal documents.