Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Jim McGovern Among Massachusetts Politicians To Take Money From Opioid-Tied Sackler Family

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Several Massachusetts politicians have gotten sizable campaign contributions in past years from the family that owns a pharmaceutical company that has admitted guilt in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The list includes a congressman and both current U.S. senators.

The company, Purdue Pharma, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony in federal court in New Jersey. The company admitted marketing highly addictive OxyContin to people likely to push abuse of it and using inducements to get doctors to prescribe it even when they shouldn’t have.

“Purdue admitted that it marketed and sold its dangerous opioid products to healthcare providers, even though it had reason to believe those providers were diverting them to abusers,” New Jersey U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig said in a written statement Tuesday, November 25. “The company lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration about steps it had taken to prevent such diversion, fraudulently increasing the amount of its products it was permitted to sell. Purdue also paid kickbacks to providers to encourage them to prescribe even more of its products.”

Members of the Sackler family have not been charged criminally but have made a civil settlement with the U.S. federal government.

More than 42,000 people died of an opioid overdose in the United States in 2017 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, have made many political contributions over the years. Massachusetts politicians have directly benefitted, including a trio of sitting members of the United States Congress: Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, and Jim McGovern.

U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-Worcester) was the first current prominent politician in Massachusetts to get a boost from the Sacklers. McGovern’s campaign received $1,000 from Beverly Sackler in 1998, when McGovern was seeking a second tern in Congress.

Beverly Sackler was married to former Purdue Pharma co-owner Raymond Sackler. She was a member of the company’s executive board between the early 1990s and 2017, the year her husband died. Mrs. Sackler, who died in 2019, was a co-owner of the company, according to The Stamford Advocate.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge) received the most campaign money from the Sacklers of the bunch. They gave her $4,500 between 2012 and 2017. That includes $3,000 from Beverly Sackler, the former company board member and wife of former company principal Raymond Sackler.

Warren also received $1,500 from Elizabeth Sackler, daughter of Arthur Sackler (1913-1987), a psychiatrist and brilliant marketer who helped arrange financing for the purchase of the company for his brothers. Arthur Sackler’s marketing techniques were used by the company to sell its products, including OxyContin.

Arthur Sackler died several years before the company started selling OxyContin. A family spokesman says that Arthur Sackler held a one-third option in the company at the time of his death in 1987, which was sold to his brothers by his estate. His daughter, Elizabeth Sackler, told the Guardian in 2018 that she has never held shares in Purdue Pharma and that she has never “benefitted in any way” from the sale of OxyContin. She also called the company’s role in the opioid epidemic “morally abhorrent.”

U.S. Senator  Ed Markey (D-Malden), like McGovern, also received money from Beverly Sackler. She contributed $575 to his U.S. Senate re-election bid in 2014. That came one year after he beat Gabriel Gomez in a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left by John Kerry to become then-President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. Markey went on to win the general election by nearly 24 percentage points.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Senator Markey told New Boston Post by email that Markey’s campaign made a donation to Cory’s Cause, a nonprofit organization that provides information and resources concerning opioid addiction, on May 9, 2019 “when it became aware of the specific Sackler donations.”

When the U.S. Department of Justice announced on October 21 an $8.3 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic, Markey put out a statement blasting the Sackler family, placing responsibility on the company for the problem.

“OxyContin was the original sin of the opioid epidemic,” Markey said in the written statement. “Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family turned this nation into the United States of Oxy, lying about the addictive nature of these supercharged prescription painkillers, all to feed their greed. A tsunami of opioid addiction swallowed families as quickly as Purdue Pharma pushed Americans to swallow its pills.

“Today’s settlement does not go nearly far enough to ensure the Sacklers and the merchants of addiction who profited from the opioid epidemic compensate the people they have hurt and the families they destroyed,” Markey added. “Trump’s Department of Justice is letting Purdue and the Sacklers off the hook because that’s what Donald Trump and his cronies do when confronted with holding corporate wrongdoers accountable. The American people deserve more justice than this for the toll the opioid epidemic continues to take.”

Markey also put out a joint statement with Warren on the matter.

“Purdue and the Sackler family must be held fully accountable for their role in accelerating the nation’s deadly opioid crisis,” Markey and Warren wrote. “The proposed restructuring of the company, however, seems to hamstring the ability of state and local governments, victims and survivors, and other stakeholders to do so, reducing the company’s liability, and allowing it to continue, under an unusual business partnership, to sell opioids.” 

The offices for McGovern, Warren, and Markey could not be reached for comment on Wednesday to explain why they took money from the Sacklers.

In May 2019, when Warren was running for president, a spokesman for Warren told The Wall Street Journal that the sum of money the senator received from the Sacklers would be donated, but didn’t say where.

Although Markey, Warren, and McGovern are the three active members of Congress from Massachusetts who have taken money from the Sacklers, they are not the only ones. There are two more: a U.S. Senator, and a three-time candidate for Congress.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, now a Republican U.S. Senator representing Utah, and Democrat Alan Khazei of Brookline were also beneficiaries of the Sacklers.

Khazei unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in U.S. Senate races in Massachusetts in 2010 and 2012, and later ran in the Democratic primary in the state’s Fourth Congressional District earlier this year.

Jonathan Sackler, who died earlier this year, was a co-owner of Purdue Pharma. Back in 2009, he maxed out and gave Khazei a $2,400 campaign donation in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid.

As for Romney, during his 2012 presidential campaign, Romney received $22,479.88 from the Sackler family; the money came from a combined five family members. Romney served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

Khazei could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A spokesman for Romney could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Purdue Pharma said that the company does not comment on Sackler family matters.

Spokesmen for relatives of Raymond Sackler and Mortimer Sackler, the now-deceased former Purdue Pharma co-owners, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.