February 17, 2022

Warren, Blumenthal, Colleagues Call on DOJ to Investigate Sackler Family’s Role in Fueling Opioid Epidemic

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether members of the Sackler family personally engaged in criminal conduct in connection with Purdue Pharma’s admitted criminal wrongdoing in fueling the devastating opioid epidemic. The senators also urged the DOJ to investigate whether any of the Sacklers’ subsequent conduct warrants criminal investigation.

“The Sackler family’s greed for soaring profits at Purdue Pharma fueled the opioid crisis and destroyed the lives of millions of Americans,” said Senator Warren. “While I’m glad that the DOJ reached a civil settlement with Purdue for its crimes, I’m calling on the DOJ to immediately investigate the Sackler family’s role in the opioid epidemic, and if appropriate, bring criminal charges against individual members of the Sackler family before any statutes of limitations expire.”

Between 1996 and 2008, members of the Sackler family led the manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and sales of Purdue Pharma’s opioid products, including OxyContin. As sales declined in the 2000s, members of the Sackler family used predatory business practices to try to “turbocharge” opioid sales, even though they knew that these opioids were driving an abuse and addiction crisis that had already killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Even after Purdue pled guilty in 2007 for misleading doctors and regulators about OxyContin’s risks, it continued its aggressive and predatory sales and marketing practices, driving the opioid crisis.

In 2020, DOJ reached a settlement with Purdue Pharma for fueling the opioid crisis, and a month later, Purdue pleaded guilty to three felonies related to the sale and marketing of OxyContin. DOJ also reached a settlement with the Sackler family for its role in causing the opioid crisis, where DOJ reserved a right to bring charges against individuals at Purdue Pharma, including members of the Sackler family. Through this entire process, the Sackler family tried to protect themselves and their fortunes from investigations at the state and federal levels, transferring over $10 billion in allegedly fraudulent funds from Purdue to their private coffers, all while Purdue was insolvent and facing bankruptcy. 

The senators called on DOJ to investigate the Sackler family’s alleged fraudulent transfers, history of corporate criminal wrongdoing, and attempts to avoid responsibility for an epidemic that has taken lives and ravaged communities across the nation. If appropriate, they urged the DOJ to consider possible criminal charges for members of the Sackler family before statutes of limitations expire. 

Senator Warren has fought to use every tool available to address the opioid crisis and hold Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family responsible for their roles in fueling this devastating crisis.

  • In August 2021, Senator Warren, joined by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) urged the Department of Justice to file an immediate appeal of Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy plan of reorganization that would prevent the Sackler family from being held accountable for the opioid crisis. 
  • In July 2021, Senator Warren, joined by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) announced legislation to prohibit the use of non-consensual, non-debtor releases that have helped entities and individuals, like members of the Sackler family, escape accountability for wrongdoing through bankruptcy proceedings.
  • In November 2020, Senator Warren, joined by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) led their colleagues to call on Trump's Justice Department to stop plans to make Purdue Pharma a public benefit corporation.
  • On November 20, 2020, Senator Warren and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the DOJ requesting information regarding its settlement agreement with Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, including a proposal for Purdue's reorganization into a "public benefit company.”