Sacklers Deny Wrongdoing During House Panel Over Purdue Pharma Oxycontin Sales Thursday's hearing was the first time members of the Sackler family faced a public accounting for their alleged role in the nation's deadly opioid epidemic.

Sacklers Deny Wrongdoing During House Panel Over Purdue Pharma Oxycontin Sales

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today, for the first time, members of the Sackler family spoke publicly about their role at Purdue Pharma, the company they own that makes Oxycontin. David and Kathe Sackler testified under oath before a House oversight committee along with Purdue Pharma CEO Craig Landau. The Sacklers and Landau said they did nothing wrong. NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann joins me now. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So these are the people who run Purdue - who own Purdue Pharma. They were running Purdue Pharma during a time when the company has admitted misleading doctors and patients about how dangerous Oxycontin can be, and yet today they're saying they are not at fault. Square that for us.

MANN: Yeah, this is really controversial. First in 2007 and again in October of this year, the company pled guilty to criminal efforts to boost sales of this highly addictive opioid drug, Oxycontin. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York who heads this oversight committee, today demanded to know in the virtual hearing who would actually be held accountable.

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CAROLYN MALONEY: You pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Which individuals at Purdue committed those crimes?

MANN: But the fact is, right now, while the corporation has pleaded guilty, no individuals are facing criminal charges. No one at the company has admitted to any personal wrongdoing.

KELLY: I want to follow up on some of the lines of questioning that lawmakers were pursuing today. I gathered more than one. They were calling the Sacklers conduct - and I'm quoting - "criminal and abhorrent." How did the Sacklers - sitting there, listening, how did they respond?

MANN: Yeah, it was fascinating to watch. The Sacklers, who appeared voluntarily after being threatened with subpoenas, spoke at length. David Sackler said all his actions on the board were legal and ethical. And then Kathe Sackler spoke, and here's what she said when asked about her culpability.

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KATHE SACKLER: I have struggled with that question. I have asked myself over many years - I have tried to figure out, is there anything that I could have done differently knowing what I knew then, not what I know now. There's nothing that I can find that I would have done differently.

MANN: What the Sacklers say is that, as board members, they weren't involved in day-to-day management. But lawmakers today pointed out that court documents show members of the family allegedly playing a really hands-on role, pushing Oxycontin sales. And at times, this back-and-forth was pretty intense. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, represents a state that's been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. At one point, he said - and I'm quoting - "I'm not sure that I'm aware of any family in America that's more evil than yours."

KELLY: Wow. Lawmakers were also quite focused on how rich the Sacklers are. They are really rich. According to Forbes magazine, members of the family profited more than $10 billion from opioid sales. What is happening with that money?

MANN: Yeah, there's a big fight over the money. The Sacklers have already paid $225 million in a deal with the Department of Justice. They've offered to give up control of Purdue Pharma as part of bankruptcy proceedings. They say they're willing to forfeit another $3 billion of that private wealth. But today, some lawmakers said the Sacklers should pay a lot more. Here's James Comer. He's a Republican from Kentucky.

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JAMES COMER: And look - we don't agree on a lot on this committee in a bipartisan way. But I think our opinion of Purdue Pharma and the actions of your family, I think we all agree, are sickening.

MANN: Several lawmakers today pointed out that while a street dealer involved in the illegal sale of just a few Oxycontin pills could face up to a decade in federal prison, the Sacklers so far, again, haven't faced any criminal charges.

KELLY: Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Brian Mann.

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