’The defendants knewwhat they were doing
To build a wall along the Southern border of the kind long proposed by the president would mean 2,000 miles of construction with long stretches of it on private land, through a national park or along the Rio Grande. One of the main purposes, supposedly, would be to help combat the worst drug crisis the nation has ever seen.
A much cheaper option, and likely to be just as effective, might be a 30-foot wall of concrete surrounding one building in southwestern Connecticut — 201 Tresser Blvd. in Stamford.
Otherwise known as 1 Stamford Forum, it’s best known as the address of Purdue Pharma LP, which, to believe everything written about the company, bears more responsibility for the nation’s drug crisis than anything we’ll find coming from Mexico. The company behind OxyContin has long been blamed for playing an outsized role in the nation’s opioid crisis, and the story took an even darker turn with the release of documents a week ago in one of the dozens of suits seeking damages from the company.
It’s been more than a decade since Purdue pleaded guilty along with three company executives to misleading doctors, patients and regulators as to the risk of addiction and potential for abuse regarding its signature product. The company made billions of dollars following the 1996 introduction of OxyContin, which was marketed as providing pain relief over a 12-hour stretch in a time-release formula.
But because the pills were easily abused and uncommonly powerful, thousands of people become addicted, with many turning to heroin when they couldn’t acquire more pills. The death toll resulting from overdoses related to prescription opioids is at almost 218,000 since OxyContin was released, according to the CDC.
Since the company pleaded guilty to “misbranding” the drug in 2007, the opioid crisis has only gotten worse. Today the company is the subject of lawsuits from hundreds of cities and states that want Purdue to pay a price for the on-the-ground impact that comes from releasing millions of doses of narcotics into the world.
The most damning suit comes from Massachusetts, where the state attorney general is targeting not only the company but its founding Sackler family, some of whom live in Connecticut. The suit, which draws on internal company documents and communications, depicts the family as something close to cartoon villains, raking in their cash even as millions of people suffer.
“We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” Dr. Richard Sackler reportedly wrote in a 2001 email laying out a strategy for fighting bad press. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” This, of course, is basically what happened. Addicts are the ones who die or go to jail, while the family that supplied the drugs has been lavished with praise for its philanthropy. Blaming the victims turns out to be a successful business strategy.
Elsewhere in the suit is found an effort by Purdue to get in on a newly lucrative business: treatment of opioid addiction. According to ProPublica, “Purdue executives discussed how its sales force could promote (anti-addiction medication) to the same doctors who prescribed the most opioids.” This would be comical were it not so horrifying.
Purdue has responded by saying the communications were cherry-picked from millions of documents, which is not the same as disputing them. It has also emphasized that there are many other companies in the pain-killer business, and other aspects of the industry that need scrutiny. Separately, no one should lose sight of, or punish, people who truly need strong painkillers to live their lives.
But that’s not what’s at stake here. As the lawsuit states, “The opioid epidemic is not a mystery to the people who started it. The defendants knew what they were doing.”