Opioid maker Purdue Pharma pleads guilty to conspiracy and kickback charges

Purdue Pharma headquarters

In this Oct. 21, 2020, file photo Purdue Pharma headquarters stands in Stamford, Conn. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma LP pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal conspiracy and kickback charges stemming from the company’s role in the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

During a virtual hearing with a federal judge in New Jersey, Purdue agreed to pay a criminal fine of $3.54 million and another $2 billion in criminal forfeiture.

Under the plea agreement, the company will not pay any restitution to victims or victims’ families, or be sentenced to probation for its crimes.

Prosecutors say that Purdue promoted its opioid drugs to doctors it knew were prescribing opioids for uses that were “unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary.” In addition, it said the company defrauded the Drug Enforcement Administration by failing to report more than a million prescriptions for its opioid medications, including Oxycontin.

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The company also paid two doctors to write more prescriptions for opioids in exchange for teaching other medical providers about its opioid drugs. Some of those prescriptions were partially or completely paid for by Medicare.

Purdue also pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks to Practice Fusion, an electronic health records company, so it would “recommend and arrange for” opioid prescriptions. Prosecutors say an alert within Practice Fusion’s software would prompt doctors to conduct pain assessments while they were seeing patients, to increase the likelihood of their prescribing opioids manufactured by Purdue.

“Having our plea accepted in federal court, and taking responsibility for past misconduct, is an essential step to preserve billions of dollars of value for creditors and advance our goal of providing financial resources and lifesaving medicines to address the opioid crisis. We continue to work tirelessly to build additional support for a proposed bankruptcy settlement, which would direct the overwhelming majority of the settlement funds to state, local and tribal governments for the purpose of abating the opioid crisis,” said Purdue in a statement.

Purdue has waived its right to appeal.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo did not set a sentencing date during the hourlong hearing, which featured mostly one-word responses from Robert S. Miller, chairman of the board of directors of Purdue, who was representing the company.

Last week, a federal bankruptcy judge approved an $8.3 billion criminal and civil settlement between Purdue and the federal government tied to claims about the company’s role in the nation’s opioid crisis.

The settlement — which included an agreement to plead guilty to the three felony counts that were part of Tuesday’s hearing in New Jersey — resolves thousands of criminal and civil claims against Purdue.

Under the plea deal, the company will be reorganized as a public benefit corporation, which will put local and state governments in the position to benefit from future sales of opioids like OxyContin, according to NPR.

The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing.

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“The abuse and diversion of prescription opioids has contributed to a national tragedy of addiction and deaths, in addition to those caused by illicit street opioids,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in October, when the settlement agreement was first announced.

“With criminal guilty pleas, a federal settlement of more than $8 billion, and the dissolution of a company and repurposing its assets entirely for the public’s benefit, the resolution in today’s announcement reaffirms the Department of Justice will not relent in its multi-pronged efforts to combat the opioid crisis.”

In a separate civil suit, members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, have agreed to pay $225 million of their personal wealth to settle civil claims.

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