Purdue Pharma's Stamford headquarters
Purdue Pharma’s Stamford headquarters.
Purdue Pharma’s Stamford headquarters.

Richard Sackler, the former president of Purdue Pharma, doubled down on blaming addicts for the opioid crisis driven in part by his company’s product, calling drug users “victimizers” and saying they are responsible for their own fate, according to emails released Tuesday by the state Attorney General’s office.

“Abusers aren’t victims; they are victimizers,” Sackler wrote to an acquaintance in 2001. The receiver of that email, who was not identified, noted in another correspondence: “Abusers die, well that is the choice they made. I doubt a single one didn’t know of the risks.”

Those previously redacted emails were made public Tuesday and are part of Attorney General William Tong’s expanded complaint against Purdue, Sackler, other members of his family and former members of Purdue’s board of directors. Portions of the state’s lawsuit were initially kept secret under a federal judge’s order. Connecticut has since obtained permission to release the records.

In an email exchange with the same acquaintance in 2001, the acquaintance wrote to Sackler: “You know what the general ignorant public will say, do away with the drug!! Blame the manufactures (sic), Drs., pharmacist, but NEVER NEVER THE CRIMINAL, HE/SHE, (to be politically correct) is never to blame. Give me a break, lest I THROW UP! The whole thing is a sham and if people die because they abuse it then good riddance.”

Sackler replied: “Unfortunately, when I’m ambushed by 60 Minutes, I can’t easily get this concept across. Calling drug addicts ‘scum of the earth’ will guarantee that I become the poster child for liberals who want to do just want (sic) to distribute the blame to someone else, as you say.”

Tong called the emails “outrageous” and said they signal “an utter disregard for human life.”

“These emails are far more than a momentary lapse in judgment between friends – they encapsulate the depraved indifference to human suffering that infected Purdue’s entire business model,” he said. “Purdue and defendant members of the Sackler family knew people were dying, but they continued to push their opioids in blind pursuit of profit.”

David Bernick, an attorney for Sackler, said his client has apologized for using insensitive language that “doesn’t reflect what he actually did about the emerging problem of opioid abuse.”

“These emails were written two decades ago following news reports about criminal activity involving prescription opioids, such as drug store robberies,” Bernick said in a statement Tuesday. “Dr. Sackler was expressing his worry that this news coverage would stigmatize an essential FDA-approved medication that doctors feel is critical for treating their patients in pain. The same concern from 20 years ago exists today.”

The lawsuit, originally filed in December and expanded last month to feature additional defendants and allegations, charges that Stamford-based Purdue Pharma purposefully downplayed the risks of addiction to OxyContin and other opioid painkillers, and that the company “peddled a series of falsehoods” to push patients toward its opioids, reaping massive profits from sales while addiction skyrocketed.

The expanded complaint added a charge of fraudulent transfer of funds and took aim at Purdue’s threats to declare bankruptcy in a bid to avoid what could be billions of dollars in court judgments. Nearly 2,000 cities, including dozens in Connecticut, and 34 states have sued the pharmaceutical company over its sale of opioids.

Connecticut’s amended lawsuit says Purdue and the Sacklers told doctors that addiction was “not caused by drugs,” but instead was the result of “susceptible individuals.” Purdue claimed that “appropriate” patients would not get addicted.

The new filing also expanded on the company’s tactics to maximize the sale of its opioids by pressing doctors to prescribe higher and higher doses, and alleged that Purdue used a “savings card” to offer discounts to patients not fully covered by insurance so they could get hooked on the drugs.

Officials with Purdue have denied the allegations.

Connecticut is attempting to claw back billions of dollars that the company funneled to the Sacklers from the sale of opioids to make it available for court judgments or settlements.

The money was routed through Purdue affiliates, including Purdue Holdings L.P., PLP Associates Holdings L.P., Rosebay Medical Company, L.P., and Beacon Company. Those companies and their executives are now defendants in the lawsuit.

Connecticut has followed Massachusetts’ lead in releasing Purdue-related emails. The Bay State’s lawsuit also includes at least one correspondence in which Sackler advises pushing blame onto people who have become addicted.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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