Press Release

Sackler family knew but denied and downplayed risks of opioids, stigmatized addicted people, then moved to profit from addiction

AG Ellison’s office files unredacted complaint that shows family that controls Purdue paid themselves $4B in profit from opioids, while calling addicted people ‘criminals,’ ‘scum of the earth’ — then exploiting addiction treatment as an ‘attractive market’ that is ‘naturally linked’ to the crisis they created

AG Ellison: Complaint shows Sacklers ‘motivated not by human dignity or the value of human life, but by unlimited greed above all else’

August 5, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — The Sackler family that controls Purdue Pharma — the manufacturer of the blockbuster opioid OxyContin and other opioids — knew as early as 20 years ago of the risks of addiction and death that their products posed, but denied and downplayed those risks, stigmatized addicted people, then moved to profit from the market for addiction treatment. All this and more is revealed in the unredacted First Amended Complaint against Purdue and eight members of the Sackler family— Richard Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, David Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Beverly Sackler, and Theresa Sackler — who are named as individual defendants. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office filed the unredacted First Amended Complaint today in Hennepin County District Court.

Notably, the amended complaint reveals that the Sackler defendants, who controlled Purdue at all times, paid themselves a total $4 billion in profits they made off opioids nationally, including tens of millions of dollars in profits that they made off Minnesotans. They enriched themselves while calling people who were addicted to OxyContin, an opioid they knew was twice as powerful as morphine, “culprits,” “reckless criminals,” and “scum of the earth.” Then, the amended complaint reveals, they realized that treating addiction was an “attractive market” that was “naturally linked” to the crisis they had created and moved to profit from addiction treatment as their next business opportunity.

“The unredacted complaint makes it starkly clear that the Sackler defendants were motivated not by human dignity or the value of human life, but by unlimited greed above all else,” Attorney General Ellison said. “The Sackler defendants knew they were distorting facts, deceiving people, and destroying lives, and they kept going for the sake of greed. They didn’t see addiction, epidemic, and death as reasons to change course — they saw them as opportunities for profit.

“On behalf of the people of Minnesota, my office and I are doing everything we can to hold the Sackler defendants personally accountable for the irreparable pain and damage they willingly inflicted on every part of our state in the pursuit of their greed,” Ellison concluded.

From 2000 through 2017, a total 3,628 Minnesotans died of opioid-involved overdoses, including 422 in 2017 alone, the highest yearly figure yet recorded by the Minnesota Department of Health. From 2000 to 2017, the number of Minnesotans who died from opioid-related overdoses increased nearly 800 percent.

The unredacted complaint reveals that when defendant Richard Sackler learned as early as 2001 of a federal prosecutor’s report that 59 people had died of opioid-related overdoses in a single state, he wrote to Purdue executives that “[t]his is not too bad. It could have been far worse.”

Additionally, the unredacted complaint shows how the Sackler defendants reacted to and actively attempted to influence Minnesota’s pain-management standards to their benefit.

The State of Minnesota first filed suit against Purdue in Hennepin County District Court on July 2, 2018. In the suit, the State alleges 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 healthcare providers about the benefits of opioids; false statements in advertising; public nuisance; unjust enrichment; false claims; and other causes of action.

On May 17, 2019, Attorney General Ellison announced that his office had amended the original complaint against Purdue Pharma to include eight members of the Sackler family, which controls Purdue, as individual defendants. The amended complaint the State filed at that time was redacted. Today, Attorney General Ellison’s office filed the unredacted complaint, which allows the public to learn about the Sacklers’ words and conduct directly from internal company documents. 

Below are excerpts from the unredacted complaint filed today, with paragraph and page numbers from the complaint supplied for reference, that show in verbatim quotes and stark detail that:


Newly-unredacted language from the complaint that is publicly available for the first time today is highlighted in bold. Other previously released passages are highlighted in italics for emphasis.


I. The Sackler defendants were personally behind Purdue’s deception about OxyContin’s risk of abuse and addiction. (¶225, p. 67)


II. The Sackler defendants knew of OxyContin’s risk of abuse and addiction as early as 1999 — and intentionally blamed individuals for it. (¶238, p. 72)


III. The Sackler defendants’ understanding of the risk of opioid addiction is underscored by their moves to profit from addiction. (¶283, p. 84)


IV. The Sackler defendants monitored and directed Purdue’s influence of Minnesota pain management standards and education. (¶235, p. 70-71)


V. Richard Sackler was personally involved in maximizing OxyContin’s returns for Purdue from the start. (¶224, p. 67)


VI. The Sackler defendants paid themselves $4 billion in opioid profits, including tens of millions of dollars earned in Minnesota. (¶¶298-300, p. 84)