Maker of OxyContin Loses Criminal Lawsuit—Transform to Non-Profit and Pay $8 Billion

Purdue Pharma World Headquarters

Purdue pled guilty to three federal charges, criminal charges at that, for its role in creating and advancing the opioid epidemic. However, as many feel that Purdue started the opioid epidemic, the charges the company now faces do not come close to providing the American people with sufficient justice, recompense, and healing.

The opioid crisis is a complex, multi-faceted, complicated addiction problem and public health emergency. And while there are now many groups across the planet that contribute to the crisis, Purdue was the first pharmaceutical company to drastically increase the production, advertising, distribution, and sale of its patented OxyContin pain reliever.

OxyContin became the frontrunner of the opiate epidemic, with several pharma companies and their trademarked opioids coming in to join the rush shortly after.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives to the opioid crisis, a huge percentage of them dying from overdoses on OxyContin specifically. So while it should come as no surprise that the company that made this lethal drug is now facing criminal lawsuits, what’s concerning is that Purdue’s founders are getting off scot-free. Not only are there no criminal actions being taken against any of the Purdue leadership officials (who knew that OxyContin was addictive and potentially fatal), but the lawsuit penalties do not come anywhere near to making up the damage done by the corporate giant.

The Details of the Litigation

There has been ongoing litigation against Purdue Pharmaceuticals for well over a year now. The criminal case came to a close on October 21st, 2020, when Purdue pled guilty, agreed to pay $8 billion, shut down its operations, and close the company.

That all sounds good at first, but the company’s assets are going to be reformulated into an alleged “public benefit company.” The trust is said to be a new venture that will “act in the very best interests of the American people.” However, the new company will be allowed to produce OxyContin, the drug that started it all. Furthermore, the new company will be allowed to make replacement medications that opiate addicts can use to ease their withdrawals from opiates (essentially replacing one drug dependency for another).

Finally, the fines that Purdue is being forced to pay are going to questionable recipients rather than going towards funding treatment for the millions of Americans who are now addicted to OxyContin thanks to Purdue.

There is no doubt that Purdue engaged in some very illegal activities, of which making a drug they knew would be addictive and potentially lethal was only one such offense. Purdue also pressured doctors to prescribe more OxyContin than they should have, and Purdue even bribed doctors with cash payments to do this. Purdue representatives also lied to the American people by telling them that OxyContin was not addictive when it was well known that the drug was, in fact, very addictive.

In short, the company should be doing much more to make up the damage done, and the company’s founders and leadership should be held criminally accountable for their actions.

A Lethal Crisis—Examining the Human Cost of the Opiate Epidemic

Opiate addict
Photo by DNY59/

While opiate death can occur from different opiates (lab-made opiates, heroin, etc.), prescription painkiller opiates account for a significant percentage of the total annual opioid deaths.

From CDC research and publications, we know that about 750,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses since the turn of the century. At least 65 percent of those deaths involved an opiate, with tens of thousands of fatalities involving opiate painkillers specifically. Each year up to and including the present, thousands of Americans die from opiate painkillers, even now that the data and risk about them are relatively well known.

Despite growing awareness of the danger of opioid painkillers, the medical and pharmaceutical community has been slow in innovating alternative pain relief methods. To this day, pharma companies still make opiates, and doctors still prescribe them, knowing full well a certain percentage of their patients will become addicted to them.

Painkillers have also led to surges in other forms of drug use. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse report, people who use prescription painkillers are 19 times more likely to use heroin than people who do not use analgesics. Furthermore, roughly 86 percent of current heroin addicts started using painkillers before they transitioned to heroin.

Justice Provides Little Hope For Treatment

Attorneys talking
Photo by sabthai/

The legal experts who came together in a massive coalition to file suit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals are not satisfied with the results. For example, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong released a statement touching on how Purdue is not being held fully accountable:

This settlement provides a mere mirage of justice for the victims of Purdues callous misconduct. The federal government had the power here to put the Sacklers in jail, and they didnt. Instead, they took fines and penalties that Purdue likely will never fully pay. Every dollar paid here is one dollar less for states like Connecticut trying to maximize money from Purdue and the Sacklers to abate the opioid epidemic. Preserving Purdues ability to continue selling opioids as a public benefit corporation is simply unacceptable.

Purdue should not be allowed to reformulate into another company and continue to make drugs that will kill people. And Purdue’s founders, the Sackler family, should not be allowed to get off scot-free without facing any criminal charges for the lives lost because of their actions.

And for those addicted to opiates, whether synthetic opiates, heroin, fentanyl, or prescription painkillers, these individuals need to seek help at drug and alcohol rehab centers as soon as possible. Such programs can help them overcome their addictions and seek life anew.

If you or someone you care about is addicted to opiates, please contact Narconon today. Opiate addiction can be fatal and often is. Please don’t wait until it is too late.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.