May 17, 2019 | Office of Attorney General Keith Ellison

Press Release

State of Minnesota adds Sackler family as defendants in lawsuit against Purdue Pharma

Attorney General Ellison announces State asking court to amend complaint against opioid manufacturer to include eight members of Sackler family, which owns company, as individual defendants

May 17, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that the State of Minnesota has asked the Hennepin County District Court for permission to amend its lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma to add eight members of the Sackler family, which owns and operates Purdue, as individual defendants.

“The Sackler family controlled Purdue at all times. They were intimately involved in directing Purdue’s deceptive and fraudulent marketing tactics and driving strategies to sell more and more opioids, despite fully knowing the risks to Minnesotans. Their misconduct led directly to damage and death in every community in Minnesota,” Attorney General Ellison said.

“They knew what they were doing, and they did it anyway. Today, we’re holding them personally accountable for the harm they and their greed have done to the people of our state,” he added.

Attorney General Ellison was joined at the press conference by members of his Advisory Task Force for Lowering Pharmaceutical Drug Costs, including nurse consultant Shirlynn La Chapelle, patient advocate Elo Alston, and State Representatives John Lesch (DFL–Saint Paul) and Rod Hamilton (R–Worthington). Representative Lesch said, “People who hide behind the liability protections of a corporation should not be allowed to endanger the people of Minnesota by those protections. This amended lawsuit allows us to get to the source of the scourge that is endangering Minnesotans.” Representative Hamilton added, “This isn’t a partisan issue. We can stand up for the people of Minnesota to do what’s right.”

Sackler defendants’ behavior

Purdue is the manufacturer of several opioids, including OxyContin, one of the most widely prescribed and abused opioids: sales of OxyContin total more than $35 billion since it was first introduced in 1996. The State of Minnesota originally filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County against Purdue Pharma on July 2, 2018. The State alleged consumer fraud, including that Purdue deliberately minimized the addiction risk of long-term opioid use and failed to sufficiently disclose the risks of long-term opioid use; deceptive and unlawful trade practices, including that Purdue made misrepresentations designed to mislead health care providers about the benefits of opioids; false statements in advertising; public nuisance; unjust enrichment; false claims; and other causes of action. Purdue moved to dismiss the State’s lawsuit; the court denied Purdue’s motion to dismiss on January 4, 2019.

In its filing today, the State seeks to add eight members of the Sackler family — Richard Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, David Sackler, Irene Sackler Lefcourt, Beverly Sacker, and Theresa Sackler — as defendants. The Sackler defendants personally own, lead, and control Purdue: each of them has sat on Purdue’s board, and several served as officers of the company.

The State alleges that the Sackler defendants were personally involved in designing and implementing Purdue’s deceptive sales and marketing strategy and practices. The Sacklers knew as early as 1999 that Purdue’s powerful prescription opioids led to addiction — yet continued to personally direct and participate in misconduct that led to the opioid epidemic, by directing misrepresentations about the risks and benefits of long-term use of opioids that they knew were false or misleading.

In the amended complaint, the State alleges that the Sackler defendants were especially focused on and directed aggressive sales and “were involved with Purdue sales force decisions on a granular level.” They made and approved policies for high-frequency sales visits to promote inappropriate prescribing of Purdue opioids; they directed ever-increasing sales goals and the expansion of sales representatives; they directed compensation of the sales force that encouraged inappropriate prescribing of opioids; and they directed the policy that disciplined the sales force when they fell short of ever-increasing sales goals. Richard Sackler personally went on sales visits to prescribers. (Pages 66-89 of the amended complaint detail numerous, granular examples of the Sackler defendants tracking and directing Purdue’s opioid sales strategy and tactics.)

Impact on Minnesota

In Minnesota, Purdue sales representatives under the Sacklers’ direction visited prescribers more than 110,000 times between 2006 and 2017. Minnesotans have filled nearly 1.5 million prescriptions for OxyContin since Purdue introduced it in 1996.

The impact of the opioid epidemic on Minnesota has been devastating. Two Minnesotans die a day from highly-addictive opioids. From 2000 to 2017, the number of Minnesotans who died each year from opioid abuse increased 800 percent, rising every year except one for each of those years. In 2016, there were more than 150 accidental opioid-related deaths in Hennepin County alone, a number 60% higher than the year before.

There have been other impacts on Minnesotans’ health. From 2008 to 2017, the rate of opioid-related in-patient hospital stays rose 200%. From 2009 to 2016, the rate of opioid-related emergency-room visits rose more than 250%.

The opioid epidemic has had a disproportionate impact on Greater Minnesota and Native Americans. In Minnesota, Native Americans die of opioid overdoses at a rate five times higher than white people, and are overrepresented in opioid-abuse treatment programs by a factor of 16 relative to their representation in the state’s overall population.

Relief sought

The amended complaint asks the Court to award judgment against Purdue and the Sackler family defendants for injunctive relief; damages and treble damages; monetary relief, which could include restitution for injured individuals and entities; disgorgement of profits; civil penalties; abatement of public nuisance; and the State’s costs, including attorney fees and expert costs.