This story is a collaboration between ProPublica and STAT.
STAT and ProPublica have published the long-sought deposition of Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded and controls Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
Here are answers to some questions about the document.
Who is Richard Sackler, and why was he deposed?
The son of a Purdue co-founder, Sackler began working at the company in 1971 and has been at various times its president and co-chairman of the board. The Sackler family controls Purdue and has received billions of dollars from OxyContin sales.
What is this sealed document?
The deposition is believed to be the only time a member of the Sackler family has been questioned under oath about the illegal marketing of OxyContin and what family members knew about it. The deposition was taken on Aug. 28, 2015, as part of a lawsuit Kentucky brought against Purdue, alleging the company illegally promoted OxyContin. The case was settled in December 2015 when Purdue agreed to pay the state $24 million. The 337-page deposition remained under seal, but ProPublica obtained a copy of the document.
What is the background of STAT’s legal effort to unseal the deposition?
As part of the settlement, the Kentucky attorney general agreed to destroy its copies of 17 million pages of documents produced during the eight-year legal battle with Purdue. But some of the same documents remained in a sealed file in a rural eastern Kentucky courthouse. STAT filed a motion in 2016 asking the judge in that case to make the documents public, and he ordered the unsealing of those documents, including the Sackler deposition.
“The court sees no higher value than the public (via the media) having access to these discovery materials so that the public can see the facts for themselves,” Pike Circuit Court Judge Steven Combs ruled in May 2016.
Purdue appealed the ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which upheld it in December 2018. The company then asked the state Supreme Court to review that decision.
Are there other documents in the Kentucky case that the public hasn’t seen?
Yes. Hundreds of other Purdue documents, as well as videotape of Sackler’s deposition, remain under seal, and STAT is still seeking their release. They include marketing strategies and internal emails about them; documents concerning internal analyses of clinical trials; settlement communications from an earlier criminal case regarding the marketing of OxyContin; and information about how sales representatives marketed the drug.
Are these documents different from the ones detailed in a recently unredacted lawsuit filed against Purdue and members of the Sackler family by the Massachusetts attorney general?
There is a small amount of overlap, but the Massachusetts case focuses on Purdue’s actions since 2007, when the company and three current and former executives pleaded guilty in federal court to fraudulently marketing OxyContin and the company agreed to pay $600 million in fines. The Kentucky records primarily concern the company’s marketing practices in earlier years, which have been blamed for seeding the current opioid addiction crisis.
What other legal cases are pending against Purdue?
Hundreds of lawsuits filed by cities, counties, states and tribes against Purdue, other opioid manufacturers and other companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain have been consolidated into one mammoth case, known as a multidistrict litigation, in a federal court in Cleveland. The bulk of the documents cited in the Massachusetts complaint were culled from among more than 45 million pages filed confidentially by Purdue in that case. Many of these documents may never become public if the case is settled. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster has scheduled an October trial date for three of the plaintiffs — the city of Cleveland and two Ohio counties — as a test case, but he is pushing for a settlement.