Oct. 21 (UPI) — Drugmaker Purdue Pharma on Wednesday pleaded guilty to federal charges that accused the company of fueling the opioid crisis in the United States, and agreed to pay more than $8 billion in fines.
The Justice Department announced the settlement after a lengthy investigation into how Purdue marketed the addictive painkiller OxyContin for years after its introduction in 1995. Since then, it’s estimated that Purdue has made more than $35 billion in revenue from the blockbuster drug.
Purdue agreed to plead guilty to a three felony counts — including one count of dual-object conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and two counts of conspiracy to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.
Prosecutors said the penalties are the largest ever imposed on a pharmaceutical company, and that Purdue will pay a criminal fine of $3.5 billion and $2 billion in criminal forfeiture.
The drugmaker will also pay a $2.8 billion civil penalty and Purdue’s owners, the Sackler family, will separately pay $225 million in damages.
“The abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has contributed to a national tragedy of addiction and deaths, in addition to those caused by illicit street opioids,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement.
“With criminal guilty pleas, a federal settlement of more than $8 billion, and the dissolution of a company and repurposing its assets entirely for the public’s benefit, the resolution in today’s announcement re-affirms that the Department of Justice will not relent in its multi-pronged efforts to combat the opioids crisis.”
The department said Purdue made the opioid crisis worse by aggressively marketing narcotic drugs and downplaying the risks of overdose and addiction. The crisis is believed responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Americans over the last 25 years.
Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year as part of a deal valued at $10 billion that included $3 billion from the Sackler family to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits from various governments seeking to recoup taxpayer dollars lost to the epidemic.
Generic drugmaker Mallinckrodt filed for bankruptcy earlier this month and allocated $1.6 billion for opioid-related legal claims.
The Purdue deal, however, does not include any prison time for company officials or members of the Sackler family.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr last week, Democratic lawmakers asked that prison time be part of any resolution for Purdue’s role in the crisis.
“If the only practical consequence of your department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” they wrote.