Widow of Arthur Sackler says her husband shouldn’t be blamed for the opioid crisis

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday, the widow of Dr. Arthur Sackler, Jillian Sackler, pleaded for the public to stop blaming her late husband for the opioid crisis. She also said she fully supports using legal settlements in suits against the company and the family to fund treatment centers.

But, she said, her husband had nothing to do with the manufacturing of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, because he died in 1987. That was four years before Purdue Pharma “in its current form” was founded by the other two Sackler brothers: Drs. Mortimer and Raymond Sackler.

“Vilifying an innocent man is wrong,” Jillian Sackler wrote.

“It does nothing to help the United States come to grips with the epidemic, nothing to advance solutions. It is profoundly hurtful to his family and to institutions such as the Smithsonian, which are now unjustly under pressure to distance themselves from his name and his gifts.”

According to Purdue Pharma’s website, the company had been in Mortimer and Raymond’s hands since 1952. It doesn’t state what kind of role, if any, Arthur had in the company.

Arthur’s daughter, Elizabeth Sackler, said in a 2018 statement that her father had a one-third option in what was then Purdue Frederick, and that his estate sold it to his brothers a few months after his death. “None of his descendants have ever owned a share of Purdue stock nor benefitted in any way from it or the sale of OxyContin,” she said in the statement.

In her op-ed, Jillian Sackler wrote that it’s understandable to seek justice and restitution for the “terrible consequences of the opioid crisis”, and that she is in full support of using settlement funds for creating opioid addiction treatment centers. This is in reference to a $270 million settlement announced last month in a lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma attorney general, accusing Purdue Pharma of aggressively marketing the addictive painkiller and fueling a drug epidemic that has left thousands dead in the state.

She also points out that Arthur has not been named in any of the lawsuits against Purdue Pharma or the Sackler family.

The Lawsuits

On March 28, the New York attorney general’s office announced a comprehensive amended lawsuit against six opioid manufacturers, four opioid distributors, and eight members of the Sackler family.

The lawsuit alleges that six manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, engaged in false and deceptive marketing practices. The suit also alleges that opioid distributors failed to prevent their drugs from getting into the wrong hands.

The lawsuit seeks to make the companies change their business practices and to get financial compensation for the state of New York. Some of the money would be used to fund prevention programs and addiction and medical treatment for those affected.

It expands on an August lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general’s office against Purdue Pharma and sets forth the attorney general’s findings from what it referred to as “a multi-year, industry-wide investigation of these opioid market participants.”

According to the complaint, more than 130 people in the United States — about nine of them in New York — die as a result of opioid-related overdoses each day. More than 3,200 New Yorkers died of an opioid overdose in 2017, the office says.

More than 2 million Americans were dependent on or abused prescription painkillers in 2014, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office also filed a lawsuit against the Sackler family, accusing them of profiting from the opioid crisis through aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Attorneys for the family and for Purdue Pharma have continuously denied those allegations.

On March 24, more than 600 cities, counties and Native American tribes from 28 states filed a federal lawsuit against eight members of the Sackler family, accusing them of creating the opioid addiction crisis through ownership of Purdue Pharma.