A Justice Department (DOJ) report obtained by the New York Times shows that Purdue Pharma, maker of OcyContin, was aware of its drug’s popularity with drug addicts and pill mills by the late 1990s. The report shows that federal investigators from the DOJ intended to file felony charges against the company’s top three executives.
If those charges had been filed, the senior executives would probably have served time in federal prisons. Some higher level officials in George W. Bush’s administration were not in favor of filing charges, however, so the DOJ settled for a misdemeanor “misbranding” case instead.
The confidential report says that Purdue executives knew about “significant” OxyContin abuse in its first years on the market. But they later claimed that they were NOT aware of widespread misuse until many years after they had released the addictive drug on the market.
The DOJ did a four-year investigation into Purdue and found that the drug maker had received numerous reports that their pills were “being crushed and snorted; stolen from pharmacies; and that some doctors were being charged with selling prescriptions.”
The DOJ also found internal Purdue notes showing the executives knew in 1997 about OxyContin being snorted by drug addicts and being sold on the streets by drug dealers.
DOJ prosecutors wrote in 2006 that even though they were aware of the illegal use of their very addictive drug, Purdue executives continued to market it by saying that OxyContin was “less prone to abuse and addiction than other prescription opioids.”
At that time the DOJ attorneys recommended that Purdue executives be “indicted on felony charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States.” These recommendations were buried inside the George W. Bush administration and never acted upon. This is an example of how big money has corrupted Washington.
This bombshell report shows that the U.S. government allowed Purdue Pharma to collect more than $35 billion for creating an opioid crisis that could have been prevented. No Purdue executives ever went to prison for their crimes, although nearly 100,000 people have died from overdoses.
The report is being released now during a time of growing opioid addiction causing a crisis in the United States. Prescription opioid overdose deaths rose more than 10 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
At the same time the DOJ is creating new drug enforcement guidelines to put even more people in federal prisons. Small time crack dealers and even those guilty of nothing more than possession of drugs may spend many years in prison. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now recommending even more severe punishments for drug offenders.
On top of that, many state and local governments are experiencing budget shortfalls as they try to pay for the costs of opioid addiction. It is time that big companies like Purdue Pharma pay their fair share of the costs since they are the ones who profited from creating an opioid epidemic in this country.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.