NEW YORK – Purdue Pharma LP’s billionaire owners, the Sackler family, are a step closer to a trial in Massachusetts over their role in the opioid epidemic, after a judge said the state had made credible allegations of misconduct in marketing of the company’s addictive painkiller, OxyContin.
A judge in Boston on Tuesday denied the family’s request to toss out the state’s first-of-its-kind lawsuit. The ruling is significant because it means the Sacklers will have to defend their actions in court unless Purdue is able to shield its owners from pending cases through its bankruptcy process, Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey said.
“We were the first to sue the Sackler defendants, the first to name them, the first to tell the story about their role in this crisis,” Healey said Wednesday in a phone interview. “This is now the first ruling of its kind saying they can be held accountable.”
Representatives of the Sackler family didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September in an effort to halt more than 2,600 lawsuits. The company proposed a grand settlement it valued at $10 billion, including at least $3 billion from the Sacklers. Purdue and the family argue the deal is the best way to preserve the company’s value and help governments quickly deal with the public-health crisis.
About half the states that sued Purdue, including Massachusetts amd Rhode Island, have rejected the deal, saying the payout is too small and that the settlement lets the Sacklers off too easy. The family created a $13 billion fortune mostly from selling opioids over the past two decades.
Massachusetts has been a leader in the litigation against Purdue’s owners.
The Sacklers supported Purdue’s request for an injunction to block all litigation in a filing to the bankruptcy court Tuesday, saying Healey’s lawsuit against them caused “a major shift in the litigation landscape” and “became a template for scores of counties, municipalities and states around the country.”
Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders rejected the family’s motion to dismiss the state suit on Tuesday. A month earlier, she refused a similar motion by Purdue. Sanders said the state had sufficiently backed its claim, for now, that Purdue and the Sacklers failed to change their behavior after reaching a consent judgment with Massachusetts and other states in 2007 over their marketing of OxyContin.
“The Commonwealth has met its burden of producing evidence showing that each of the named defendants participated in making or approving false representations knowingly sent into Massachusetts with the intent that Massachusetts residents rely on those misrepresentations, resulting in injury to them,” the judge said.
Erik Larson is a reporter for Bloomberg News.
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