“Steps to hold Purdue criminally accountable for its actions, but not the Sacklers, suggests dissimilar treatment for similar—or even the same—unlawful conduct,” the senators wrote


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) in calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether members of the Sackler family personally engaged in criminal conduct in connection with Purdue Pharma’s admitted criminal wrongdoing in fueling the devastating opioid epidemic. The senators also urged DOJ to investigate whether any of the Sacklers’ subsequent conduct warrants criminal investigation as well.


In 2020, DOJ resolved its civil and criminal investigations into Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic. The company also pleaded guilty to three felonies for its sale and marketing of OxyContin, and DOJ reached a civil settlement with the Sackler family for their role in causing this crisis. As part of this settlement, DOJ reserved the right to bring charges against individuals, including members of the Sackler family.


“This settlement and plea are little solace for the millions who lost their lives and livelihoods at the hands of Purdue and the individuals at its helm—the Sackler family,” the senators wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland. “While the Department also reached a civil settlement with certain individual members of the Sackler family for their roles in causing this crisis, real justice in this case means holding individual lawbreakers criminally accountable.”


As owners and operators of Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family exacerbated the opioid epidemic’s staggering human and economic toll on hundreds of thousands of Americans. When faced with declining sales in the 2000s, the Sacklers employed aggressive marketing tactics to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales, eventually resulting in Purdue pleading guilty to federal criminal charges in 2007 for misleading doctors and regulators. Nevertheless, Purdue continued these aggressive tactics in the years that followed, leading to the company’s 2020 guilty plea. During this same time, the Attorney General of the State of New York has alleged members of the Sackler family tried to shield their fortunes from investigation by transferring billions of dollars from Purdue to themselves. 


“The Sacklers themselves sought to protect their assets and shield their fortunes from investigations at the state and federal levels that could—and would—lead to settlements and judgments,” the senators wrote. The Senators also noted allegations that “Mortimer D.A. Sackler—then serving on Purdue’s Board of Directors—alone ‘transferred millions of dollars from trust companies . . . to himself’ less than two years after Purdue first pleaded guilty[,]” and asserted that “[t]his purported conduct warrants investigation, too, under federal fraudulent transfer laws.”


Citing these alleged fraudulent transfers, a history of corporate criminal wrongdoing, and attempts to avoid responsibility for an epidemic that has taken lives and ravaged communities across the nation, the senators called on DOJ to consider possible criminal charges for members of the Sackler family.


“For decades, the Sacklers have put themselves and their profits before people, and, under their leadership, Purdue committed crimes that helped fuel the opioid epidemic. If members of the Sackler family have any criminal exposure as the individuals who directed and oversaw Purdue before, during, and after Purdue engaged in the criminal conspiracies to which it pleaded guilty, the Department must also take steps to hold the Sacklers accountable before applicable statutes of limitations have run,” the senators concluded.  


The full text of the letter is available here.