New York City Adds Sackler Families and Major Retailers as Defendants in Lawsuit Against Drug Companies Over Opioid Epidemic

January 16, 2019

Addendum to complaint alleges the Sacklers knew the dangers of prescription opioids, yet actively participated in efforts to portray them as non-addictive

Retailers CVS, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Anda among additional defendants accused of role in the epidemic

The New York City Law Department announced today that members of the Sackler families, who have controlled opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma for decades, as well as retailers CVS, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Anda, have been added to New York City’s lawsuit over the opioid epidemic ravaging the City and communities across the country.

In an addendum to New York City’s Short-Form Complaint, the City alleges the Sacklers actively participated in the conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive. It is also alleges that the retailers failed to control the supply chain by flooding the country with prescription opioids and permitting diversion to the illegal market.

New York City filed its original lawsuit in January 2018 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging that the opioid crisis was caused by manufacturers’ deceptive marketing and distributors’ flooding of prescription painkillers into New York City.  This placed a substantial burden on the City through increased substance abuse treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs, and law enforcement costs. The lawsuit aims to recover half a billion dollars in current and future costs the City will incur to combat this epidemic.

In 2016, more than 1,000 people in New York City died from an opioid-related drug overdose, the highest year on record. More New Yorkers died from opioid overdoses in 2017 than from car accidents and homicides combined. New York City’s lawsuit has been consolidated with dozens of others filed by communities across the state and is now being heard in state Supreme Court in Suffolk County, where this Short-Form complaint and addendum were filed.  (The Short-Form complaint is part of a procedure adopted by the court in Suffolk County to manage the multiple cases before it. It adopts both the allegations of New York City’s prior pleading and those of the Master Complaint used by all plaintiffs in the coordinated actions.)

“It is important to note that the Sacklers personally derived billions of dollars of profits from Purdue Pharma’s sale of opioids since the 1980s,” said Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter. “They did so through a complex, worldwide group of associated companies, all of which are owned and controlled, directly or indirectly, through family trusts and holding companies. Each person named knowingly aided, abetted, participated in, and benefitted from the wrongdoing of Purdue as alleged in the complaint. No one is named merely because of his or her status as shareholder, limited partner, member of a limited liability company, or beneficiary of a trust.”

“As we allege in the complaint, the Sacklers, through their business dealings and ownership of Purdue, have manufactured, promoted and recklessly marketed opioids by omitting critical information that could have saved thousands of lives, communities and families if known sooner,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Paul J. Hanly Jr., lead counsel for New York City in this case. “The Sacklers have unjustly enriched themselves as a result.”

The addendum alleges members of the Sackler family were aware of the risks associated with OxyContin no later than the summer of 1999, when a Purdue sales representative reported widespread abuse of the drug.  As a result, a Purdue employee was tasked to research the topic and produced a detailed memo in the fall of 1999 that described how users would remove the coating on OxyContin pills, crush them, cook them, and snort or shoot them.  As alleged in the new pleading, that memo was sent to the president of Purdue, its general counsel, Purdue's medical director and directly to members of the Sackler family involved in the management of the company.

The City’s new pleading also alleges that Sackler family members were aware of and supportive of a method developed by Purdue to cause company emails to self-destruct at a pre-determined time. This was an attempt to create a system where potentially incriminating documents would automatically self-destruct, even after receipt by unrelated third-parties.

Contact: Nick Paolucci / 212-356-4000