WASHINGTON – Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, Justice Department officials announced Wednesday.
The company will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, the officials said. The resolution will be detailed in a bankruptcy court filing in federal court.
The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — from criminal liability, and a criminal investigation is ongoing. But one state attorney general said the agreement fails to hold the Sacklers accountable.
The settlement is the highest-profile display yet of the federal government seeking to hold a major drugmaker responsible for an opioid addiction and overdose crisis linked to more than 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000.
The deal comes less than two weeks before a presidential election where the opioid epidemic has taken a political back seat to the coronavirus pandemic and other issues. But it does give President Donald Trump’s administration an example of action on the addiction crisis, which he promised early in his term.
To Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the Justice Department “failed” and she said in a statement that she was not done with either Purdue or the Sacklers. “Justice in this case requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election,” she said.
As part of the resolution, Purdue is admitting that it impeded the Drug Enforcement Administration by falsely representing that it had maintained an effective program to avoid drug diversion and by reporting misleading information to the agency to boost the company’s manufacturing quotas, the officials said.
A Justice Department official said Purdue had been representing to the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid diversion but instead had been “disregarding red flags their own systems were sending up.”