Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty Tuesday to three criminal charges, formally taking responsibility for its part in an opioid epidemic that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths but also angering critics who want to see individuals held accountable, in addition to the company.
Steve Miller, chairperson for Purdue’s Board of Directors, admitted via video conference to a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey, that the company had not run an effective program to avoid the illegal diversion of prescription drugs to the black market, had reported misleading information to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to boost its manufacturing quotas and had impeded that agency’s effort to fight the burgeoning epidemic.
It also admitted paying doctors through a speakers program to induce them to write more prescriptions for its painkillers.
And it admitted paying an electronic medical records company to send doctors information on patients that encouraged them to prescribe opioids.
The guilty pleas were entered by Purdue board chairperson Steve Miller on behalf of the company. They were part of a criminal and civil settlement announced last month between the Stamford, Connecticut-based company and the Justice Department.
The deal includes $8.3 billion in penalties and forfeitures, but the company is on the hook for a direct payment to the federal government of only a fraction of that, $225 million. It would pay the smaller amount as long as it executes a settlement moving through federal bankruptcy court with state and local governments and other entities suing it over the toll of the opioid epidemic.
Members of the wealthy Sackler family who own the company have also agreed to pay $225 million to the federal government to settle civil claims. No criminal charges have been filed against family members, although their deal leaves open the possibility of that in the future.
“Having our plea accepted in federal court, and taking responsibility for past misconduct, is an essential step to preserve billions of dollars of value” for the settlement it is pursuing through bankruptcy court, the company said in a statement.
“We continue to work tirelessly to build additional support for a proposed bankruptcy settlement, which would direct the overwhelming majority of the settlement funds to state, local and tribal governments for the purpose of abating the opioid crisis,” the statement read.