Overdoses continue to fuel Sackler sales – family blamed for starting opioid crisis
A company owned by the Sackler family – widely blamed for being a major initial driver of the opioid epidemic – continues to rake in overdose sales overseas, despite a representative saying the company does not profit from these sales.
The Sackler family, best known for its ownership of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, also owns the international pharmaceutical company Mundipharma. The company is pushing its overdose antidote, a naloxone nasal spray called Nyxoid, overseas.
“You sell drugs that cause addiction and overdoses, and now you sell drugs that treat addiction and overdoses?” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, an outspoken Purdue critic, told The Associated Press in 2019. “That’s pretty smart, isn’t it?”
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A Mundipharma spokesperson pointed out that the company was not active in the US market.
“Mundipharma distributes Nyxoid in several countries outside of the United States,” the spokesperson told Fox News. “He makes no profit from these sales.”
The spokesperson also told Fox News that it “is common knowledge that our shareholders intend to sell Mundipharma within seven years” of Purdue’s bankruptcy plan taking effect. “We have no further information or details to share at this time on any such sale.”
Meanwhile, in 2019, a spokesperson for Mundipharma Europe told the AP that overdose reversal drugs given as a nasal spray are important, given the dismal rate of overdose deaths.
“If they were trying to find a solution, they would just hand out naloxone for free,” Stephen Wood, a fellow at the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics, told the AP. “They could use all the money they made from opioids to help support a program where they donate this life-saving drug.”
Profits from OxyContin helped make the Sacklers one of the wealthiest families in the world. But in recent years, Purdue and its private owners have faced lawsuits accusing them of waging an aggressive and deceptive marketing campaign pushing OxyContin prescriptions while downplaying addiction to the drug.
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A common story emerged: an OxyContin user would become addicted and then turn to heroin once the prescription drug became too expensive or hard to obtain illicitly.
In some cases, these were legitimate patients who followed the directions of the prescription while others started taking OxyContin more frequently when they felt its effects wane. Some took the drug illegally as they experimented in their youth, often in a family member’s medicine cabinet, without understanding its addictive nature.
The lawsuits against Purdue and the Sacklers allege internal documents indicate the company aimed to profit from the addiction. According to the plaintiffs, one said Purdue could become an “end-to-end provider” by providing both opioids and drug treatment, the AP reported.
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Representatives for the Sackler family at the time said a third party came forward with the plan and was dropped after a few passing mentions. Mundipharma’s spokesperson dismissed any link between the international Nyxoid push and any Purdue plan for naloxone.
Opioid overdoses have been on the rise since the 1990s, but there was a significant spike when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In 2021, there were more than 80,000 overdose deaths, an increase of about 60% from 2019, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Overdose reversal medication has become necessary following the opioid epidemic, especially an easy-to-use medication like Nyxoid overseas. In the United States, naloxone has become synonymous with a similar nasal spray product, Narcan.
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In Philadelphia, home to one of America’s most notorious outdoor drug markets, firefighters and emergency medical services administered naloxone nearly 19,600 times between 2014 and 2019, the year complete with most recent data available, according to City Data.
But the drug is not a catch-all solution.
“Once they get Narcan into their system, it puts them on immediate withdrawal,” Frank Rodriguez, a recovering drug addict, told Fox News. “They have to get high again so they don’t feel like they’re dying.”
He said he always made sure he had naloxone on hand whenever he went into town.
“It saved my life,” he said holding Narcan.
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Regardless of the need for an easy-to-use overdose reversal drug, Mundipharma has been criticized for pushing Nyxoid after the company’s owners profited from opioids.
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The Sackler family’s efforts to sell Mundipharma’s China unit for $1 billion failed in January 2022, Bloomberg reported at the time. There have been no other public reports that Mundipharma or any of its units have been sold.
Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have been embroiled in a litany of court cases in recent years. The drug company pleaded guilty to misbranding and fraud charges in 2007 and again in 2020.
Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019, but legal proceedings are ongoing. The company proposed a $6 billion settlement, funded by the Sacklers, that would be paid to various addiction victims, including states and hospitals. In exchange for this settlement, which is still under consideration, the family would be protected from future opioid lawsuits.