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Sacklers Lose Bid To Dismiss Charges In Mass. In First Test Of OxyContin Family Liability

OxyContin, shown in this file photo, is made by Purdue Pharma. (Toby Talbot/AP)
OxyContin, shown in this file photo, is made by Purdue Pharma. (Toby Talbot/AP)

A Massachusetts judge has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that claims members of the Sackler family and the company they own, Purdue Pharma, helped create the nation's opioid epidemic.

In a decision released late Tuesday afternoon, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has jurisdiction to pursue the 17 individuals named in the suit.

"The Commonwealth has met its burden of producing evidence showing that each of the named defendants participated in making or approving false representations, knowingly sent to Massachusetts with the intent that Massachusetts residents rely on those misrepresentations, resulting in injury to them," Sanders wrote.

The individual defendants said they did not work in Massachusetts or participate personally in the marketing that Healey claims concealed how easily patients could become addicted to Purdue's painkiller Oxycontin. The Sacklers, board members and company officials also argued that nothing they did was directed specifically at Massachusetts.

Sanders disagreed, writing that Sackler family members on the Purdue board received and voted on reports about company sales strategies, including opioid savings cards that were promoted to doctors and patients in Massachusetts. Purdue allegedly used the cards to boost sales even though it had become clear that the risk of addiction to opioids increases with use.

Purdue directors had a "heightened, affirmative duty to be on notice of deceptive conduct" after a 2007 court ruling that required Purdue to prevent opioid misuse, Sanders wrote.

“Today’s decision confirms that Purdue and the Sacklers are subject to state law and accountable to the people of Massachusetts," Healey said in a statement. "The public deserves to know the whole truth about the company’s role in this epidemic, and families deserve justice.”

A spokeswoman for Purdue Pharma declined comment on Tuesday's decision. As of Tuesday evening, there was no response from Sackler family members or their representatives.

Tuesday's decision comes after a Sept. 16 ruling that denied the company's motion to dismiss the Massachusetts lawsuit.

Roughly two dozen states are now suing the Sacklers, some in addition to Purdue. The company has filed for bankruptcy as part of a deal to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits nationwide. Healey and 23 other state attorneys general have argued that the state lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.

Purdue warned the ongoing cases against the company and the Sacklers will drain money for the settlement, including $3 billion Sackler family members plan to contribute.

Arguments before a bankruptcy court judge in New York are scheduled for October 11.

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Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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