Sackler Clan Resigns From Board Of Directors For The British Arm Of Their Opioid Empire

(REUTERS/George Frey)

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Members of the billionaire family regularly blamed for igniting the current opioid epidemic resigned from the board of directors for their U.K. pharmaceutical operation.

Seven members of the Sackler family, which oversees a pharmaceutical empire centered on the painkiller OxyContin, stepped down June 11 from the board of directors for Napp Pharmaceuticals, the family’s U.K. operation based in Cambridge. The resignations, which were all submitted simultaneously, come on the heels of an investigation alleging the late Mortimer Sackler dodged income taxes in the U.K. for more than three decades, reported the Evening Standard.

The Sackler family is listed at 19th on the annual Forbes list of wealthiest families in the U.S. at a worth of $13 billion. The family’s fortune largely comes from OxyContin sales, which its company, Purdue Pharma, branded and introduced as an extended-release painkiller in 1995.

Representatives for Napp Pharmaceuticals say the changes on the board are not a result of increasingly negative press coverage surrounding the Sackler name and their role in the current opioid crisis. (RELATED: How One Painkiller Ignited The Addiction Epidemic)

“As part of ongoing and regular operational reviews, changes have been made to Napp’s board of directors,” a Napp spokesman told the Evening Standard.

Mortimer, along with brothers Raymond and Arthur, began building their empire in the early 1950s by purchasing what would later become Purdue Pharma. The brothers acquired Napp Pharmaceuticals in 1966 to expand their reach overseas, an effort Mortimer personally oversaw. He permanently moved to London in 1974, renouncing his U.S. citizenship, and lived there until his death at 93 in 2010.

A recent investigation by the Evening Standard allegedly found that Mortimer, who enjoyed a reputation as a leader in philanthropy, avoided paying British income taxes during his 36-year residency in the country by claiming non-domiciled status. This left his immense pharmaceutical profits, some of which were stored in a family account in Bermuda, untouched by authorities in the U.K.

Legal documents allegedly show Mortimer claimed he domiciled in Austria. His wife, 68-year-old Theresa Sackler, was among the seven Sackler family members who resigned from the Napp Pharmaceuticals board of directors in June.

The Sacklers’ Purdue, through a partnership with an association that accredits health organizations in the U.S., funded and distributed educational material beginning in the late 1990s that downplayed the risks of opioids. Purdue’s profits from OxyContin sales topped $1.5 billion by 2001, up from $48 million in 1996. The family’s net worth eventually swelled to roughly $13 billion due to the blockbuster success of OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma, which ended its marketing practice of promoting painkillers to health care professionals in February, previously pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony charges for false marketing of OxyContin and paid $635 million as a result.

Purdue Pharma denies allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic and claims it is committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse.

Purdue Pharma is facing 26 lawsuits filed by state attorneys general and more than 400 lawsuits from cities and counties across the country. They accuse the company of orchestrating a fraudulent marketing scheme to boost sales of OxyContin that downplayed the risks for addiction from pain medication.

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