AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Now to New York where the Sackler family and its company Purdue Pharma are facing more legal trouble. Purdue manufactures that powerful opioid OxyContin. And now, in a sweeping lawsuit, New York's state attorney general says eight individual members of the Sackler family are personally to blame for much of the country's deadly opioid epidemic.
North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann tracks opioid litigation for NPR, and he joins me now. Hey.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So you and I have already talked this week about how Purdue Pharma has been sued more than a thousand times around the country for its aggressive marketing of OxyContin. How is this lawsuit different?
MANN: Well, I would say that New York's attorney general just made this personal. I mean, these opioid lawsuits tend to be corporate affairs. The targets are usually companies like Purdue or Johnson & Johnson or CVS. But Letitia James says this one group of individuals is responsible for tens of thousands of opioid deaths.
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LETITIA JAMES: But let us not forget the masterminds, the family enterprise behind this crisis, the family that literally profited off of the suffering, the death of countless New Yorkers - the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue.
MANN: So she named today these eight members of the Sackler family as defendants along with Purdue and a whole bunch of family trusts and other legal entities.
CHANG: And why name the Sacklers personally? I mean, why doesn't New York state just go after the companies?
MANN: Yeah. I think this part is interesting. This lawsuit in documents filed recently as part of civil suits in Oklahoma and Massachusetts have revealed a lot of new details about how the Sacklers ran Purdue. And the claim is that they personally pushed for the aggressive sale of these opioids even as evidence grew that people were dying. And what's alleged here in this New York lawsuit goes even a step further. New York claims the family began squeezing Purdue Pharma, draining billions of dollars as rapidly as possible. Here's Letitia James again.
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JAMES: Now, as Purdue sold more and more opioids, the Sackler family transferred more and more and more wealth to their personal accounts. And as the lawsuits have piled up against the Sackler family and Purdue for their roles in this crisis, they continue to move funds into trusts and, yes, offshore accounts to be out of the reach of any potential recovery.
MANN: So in this lawsuit, New York is now saying they're going after the Sacklers' vast private wealth, seeking damages and penalties that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
CHANG: And how has the Sackler family responded to this latest lawsuit?
MANN: Well, the Sacklers sent NPR a statement saying they strongly deny these allegations and will defend against them. They say drugs like OxyContin provide life-changing relief for millions of pain patients who need it. And they added this quote. They say, "we have always acted properly."
And I should say that in addition to singling out members of the Sackler family, this lawsuit in New York does go further. It names other companies that made and sold and distributed opioids around the country and around New York. So state officials are highlighting the Sacklers, but they say there is plenty of blame to go around.
CHANG: That's Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio. Thank you, Brian.
MANN: Thank you.
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