Former Purdue Pharma president was compared to Pablo Escobar in email

The former chairman and president of pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma was warned by a friend that the addictive nature of the powerful pain killing opioid OxyContin could make him the next Pablo Escobar, according to a recently obtained deposition.

The deposition, which took place in March and is part of the multidistrict litigation, saw Richard Sackler grilled over several aspects of the company’s operation, from marketing of the drug, to his interaction with the sales team. The deposition showed that Sackler, who said his memory suffered from brain injuries stemming from a stroke, would at times say he could not remember.

In other questions, he would defend the company, saying that they did what they could at the time the drug was being marketed.

Sackler received the email from a friend, an anesthesiologist, who said he had a friend whose daughter was approached with the drug at school in January 2002.

“Somebody tried to sell her OxyContin in the halls of the school. I asked her what she shows about — what she knew about OxyContin. I never discussed your company, et cetera, in her presence. Her reply: ‘It’s a designer drug, and sort of like heroin.’ I hate to say this, but you could become the Pablo Escobar of the new millennium,” wrote Sackler’s friend in an email according to the deposition first obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

Escobar, who died in 1993, was a Colombian drug lord who built a multibillion-dollar empire dealing cocaine.

Sackler’s attorney, David Bernick said in a statement Tuesday that the deposition shows that Sackler made efforts to curb OxyContin abuse.

“As the full historical record is now becoming known, it is clear that Dr. Sackler supported Purdue’s action plan for responding to the increasing evidence of widespread OxyContin abuse and diversion,” Bernick said. “That plan not only included cooperating with and following the instructions of public health authorities, but it went further to voluntarily undertake extensive efforts to prevent abuse and diversion of prescription opioids.”

Sackler: ‘My recollection is vague’

Sackler eventually responded to his friend: “But by this time we knew — that’s why we put in programs aimed at high school students. We knew that there was a risk that they’d be presented with OxyContin, illegally presented with OxyContin. And we had programs in place, I believe — my recollection is vague — to try to mitigate this,” Sackler responded.

Sackler was questioned over two days in March for the deposition that is being used as discovery in part of the massive multi-district litigation where about 1,700 cases among different states and municipalities have been filed.

The initial lawsuit filed in December alleges that the owners of Purdue Pharma, including Sackler, illegally shuffled hundreds of millions of dollars to other Sackler family-owned properties and downplayed the addictive nature of opioids to doctors while pressuring sales reps to market its painkiller OxyContin.

In the amended suit, filed April 22 in Hartford Superior Court, Purdue Pharma faces a fifth charge of fraudulent transfer, claiming that the company moved money to threaten bankruptcy as a way to avoid paying restitution.

OxyContin is a long acting version of oxycodone which releases over 12 hours. It was approved in 1995 by the FDA and was aggressively marketed as a safer pain pill by Purdue Pharma.

But in 2007, the federal government brought criminal charges against the company for misleading doctors and the public about the drug’s addictive nature in its advertising. The company and executives charged plead guilty and paid more than $600 million in fines.