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Sackler cousins apologize for opioid crisis during tense House hearing

Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Two members of the family that owns one of the largest makers of narcotic pain medications expressed regret Thursday about the U.S. opioid crisis, but acknowledged no personal wrongdoing.

David Sackler and Kathe Sackler, whose family owns Purdue Pharma, testified before the House oversight committee in rare public appearances at a remote hearing titled, "The Role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family in the Opioid Epidemic."

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Under questioning from panel Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney and others, the Sacklers each expressed disappointment at Purdue's role in the crisis with its potent painkiller OxyContin. Neither, however, admitted wrongdoing.

Kathe Sackler, a former Purdue vice president and longtime board member, said she would not have done anything differently, given what she knew at the time when OxyContin entered the market in 1995.

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After initially issuing an apology to the American people for the pain caused by the epidemic -- in which millions have died of opioid overdoses -- Kathe Sackler was pressed by Maloney if she would apologize for any personal role.

"I have asked myself over many years ... Is there anything that I could have done differently? Knowing what I knew then, not what I know now," she answered. "And I have to say that I can't."

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Sackler said she based her decisions in the 1990s on what she'd learned from company management and reports given to board members. She acknowledged, "It is extremely distressing."

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Her cousin David Sackler, who was a member of Purdue's board for six years beginning in 2012, also was apologetic Thursday.

"I want to express my family's deep sadness about the opioid crisis," he said.

David Sackler also said there was no personal wrongdoing and said he acted "legally and ethically."

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He also denied accusations that his family improperly shifted billions of dollars from OxyContin sales to off-shore accounts.

"Watching you testify makes my blood boil," Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said in one terse exchange. "I'm not sure that I'm aware of any family in America that's more evil than yours."

Maloney this week outlined documents that indicate the Sackler family used OxyContin to "stretch" financial targets and increase company profits.

The documents also indicate that members of the family pressured executives to grow market share for OxyContin and other opioids by targeting high-volume prescribers and encouraging higher-strength doses, Maloney said.

Last month, Purdue agreed to pay more than $8 billion and formally pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges -- which include one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and two counts of conspiracy to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

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Prosecutors said the penalties were the largest ever imposed on a pharmaceutical company.

The Justice Department has said Purdue Pharma worsened the opioid crisis through its aggressive marketing of OxyContin and downplaying the risks of overdose and addiction.

Purdue has made an estimated $35 billion in revenue from OxyContin sales.

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