Two members of the billionaire Sackler family apologised for the suffering caused by the US opioid epidemic but refused to take personal responsibility for the role played by their company, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, during testimony to a congressional committee on Thursday.
The hearing before the House oversight committee marked one of the few public appearances by members of the Sackler family, who have fiercely guarded their privacy even as the drugmaker they owned was widely blamed for fuelling one of the worst addiction epidemics of modern times.
Kathe Sackler, former vice-president and Purdue Pharma board member from 1990 until 2018, and David Sackler, a board member from 2012 until 2018, expressed sorrow for the families who have lost people to opioid addiction and overdose.
But Ms Sackler said she could not think of anything she would have done differently based on what she understood from management’s reports to the board.
“I would be happy to apologise to the American people for all the pain they’ve suffered,” she told the House oversight and reform committee. “I also am very angry. I’m angry that some people working at Purdue broke the law.”
Mr Sackler said he was “deeply and profoundly sorry that OxyContin has played a role in any addiction and death”. He added: “I believe I conducted myself legally and ethically and I believe that full record will demonstrate that.”
Purdue Pharma marketed the powerful OxyContin opioid from 1996 and reaped billions of dollars in sales, which coincided with an addiction epidemic that has raged in the US for 20 years.
The crisis began with a surge in prescriptions of drugs such as OxyContin before morphing into an epidemic involving illegal drugs including heroin and fentanyl. About 128 people overdose on legal and illegal opioids each day, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even as their company was implicated in the crisis, members of the Sackler family kept a low profile, although their philanthropic efforts resulted in their name adorning scores of museums and galleries around the world. Purdue Pharma fought for years to prevent a 2015 deposition given by Richard Sackler, David’s father, from being published, a battle it lost last year.
Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic chairwoman of the House oversight committee, claimed that members of the family pressured Purdue executives to increase the market share for OxyContin by targeting high-volume prescribers and pushing higher strength doses.
“This company played a central role in fuelling one of America’s most devastating public health crises. Purdue has generated more than $35bn in revenue since bringing OxyContin to market,” she said in her opening statement.
An audit prepared as part of Purdue’s bankruptcy settlement found members of the family withdrew about $10bn from the company, about half of which was used for taxes and reinvestment in other companies.
Purdue Pharma reached an $8bn settlement with the US in October, admitting it “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” doctors dispensing medication “without a legitimate purpose”.
But the members of the Sackler family, who agreed to pay $225m in a related settlement, denied allegations against them.
Neither settlement released Purdue executives, employees, or Sackler family members, from any future criminal liability.