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Lawmakers Hammer Sackler Family Members On Their Role In Fueling The Opioid Epidemic During Tense Hearing

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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Lawmakers vehemently criticized two members of the Sackler family, whose relatives bought and ran Purdue Pharma for decades, as they testified virtually before the House Oversight Committee Thursday.

The hearing marked the first time in years that members of the family appeared under oath to answer questions about their role in the opioid epidemic. The family has tried to settle thousands of lawsuits brought against them by individuals, cities and states who allege that Purdue aggressively marketed OxyContin to Americans for years despite knowing that was extremely addictive.

The drug has been one of the largest fuelers of the opioid epidemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans this century.

Despite the accusations and criticism from lawmakers both Republican and Democratic, cousins David and Kathe Sackler, who appeared before the committee, repeatedly insisted that they had done nothing wrong on an individual level, and instead attributed blame to Purdue.

“I’m angry that some people working at Purdue broke the law,” said Kathe Sackler, who served on Purdue’s board for 28 years, when asked if she took any personal responsibility for Purdue’s predatory marketing of OxyContin.

Though Purdue pleaded guilty in November to fraud and kickback conspiracies, resulting in an $8 billion settlement, the Sackler’s escaped largely unaffected. The family paid only $225 million despite being worth approximately $19 billion(RELATED: Purdue Pharma, Sackler Family Reach $270 Million Settlement With Oklahoma)

Purdue Pharma headquarters stands in downtown Stamford, April 2, 2019 in Stamford, Connecticut. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Purdue Pharma’s headquarters in downtown Stamford, Connecticut on April 2, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Though the hearing produced only minimal information regarding the family’s specific role in marketing the drug, the criticism from lawmakers was bipartisan and scathing.

“Watching you testify makes my blood boil,” said Tennessee Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper to David Sackler. “I’m not sure that I’m aware of any family in America that’s more evil.”

Ranking Member James Comer echoed Cooper, telling David Sackler that “our opinion of Purdue Pharma, and the actions of your family, I think we all agree are sickening. And it’s not just the cost to the families, it’s the cost to society.”

“I am just fixed to see what it appears to be is a family and a company that is going to use the bankruptcy process to get out of this and continue to be one of the wealthiest companies in America. It is unacceptable, and I am just sickened,” Comer added.

Under a proposed $10 billion settlement, Purdue declared bankruptcy and will be reorganized into a public benefit corporation where future profits could go towards addiction treatment and other measures to combat the epidemic. While the Sacklers would forfeit control over the company and pay $3 billion of their personal wealth, some state attorneys general oppose the suit, warning that they will try to use the bankruptcy proceedings to shield themselves from any criminal prosecution.

“The Sacklers want Purdue to be preserved as a public trust. They want state and local governments to be in the business of owning an OxyContin company. I’m offended by that. Families who lost a loved one are offended by that. Purdue should be shut down, not propped up,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy tweeted during the hearing.

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