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December 18, 2020

In Oversight Hearing, Pressley Blasts Sacklers, Purdue Pharma Execs for Blaming Opioid Crisis on People With Substance Use Disorder

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, in a House Oversight Committee hearing, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) blasted Purdue Pharma executives and members of the Sackler family for their role in fueling the opioid crisis and for consistently placing the blame on people who suffer from addiction.

A full transcript of her exchange with witnesses is available below and a full video is available here.

Transcript: Pressley Blasts Purdue Pharma Execs for Blaming Opioid Crisis on People With Substance Use Disorder
House Committee on Oversight and Reform
December 17, 2020

REP. PRESSLEY: The crisis of opioid addiction has destabilized families and communities throughout the country, including in the Massachusetts 7th, which I have the honor of representing.  

Now, while the Commonwealth in 2014, was the first state to declare opioids a public health emergency, my constituents are still – to this day – fighting addiction and trying to heal from the pain and trauma created by the Sackler family. Despite the havoc wrecked by Purdue Pharma, community-based recovery centers have served as critical resources, like the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery and STEPRox, who have cared for my constituents with compassion.

As the daughter of a parent who struggled with opioid substance use disorder, I know firsthand that we need to invest in these support systems and end the stigma and the criminalization of addiction.

People who are battling addiction are not criminals. They are not misbehaving. They are managing a harrowing disease that afflicts them every single day.

Mr. Sackler, yes or no, do you agree that addiction is a disease?

MR. SACKLER: I do, yes.  

REP. PRESSLEY: Dr. Sackler, yes or no, do you agree that addiction is a disease?


REP. PRESSLEY: Based on documents obtained by the Massachusetts Attorney General, this was not always your family’s view—particularly when the opioid crisis was first unfolding and generating bad press for OxyContin.

According to an internal email, marked as Document 3 on page 4, Dr. Richard Sackler wrote, and I quote:

“The abusers are misbehaving in a way that they know is a serious crime. They are doing it in complete disregard of their duties to society, their family and themselves. The notion that this is genetically programmed is nonsense.”

He went on to write “the fact is that many other people have the same tendencies and are not drug abusers. They are criminals.”

REP. PRESSLEY: Mr. Sackler, do you agree with your father’s words that people struggling with addiction are criminals, yes or no?

DR. SACKLER: No, I don’t and in the 20, almost 20 years since this was written, I know my father has both apologized for these words, and–I’m sorry, please go ahead.

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you, reclaiming my time. In one email, marked as Document 2 on page 2, he wrote “we have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”

Mr. Sackler, who do you believe is the criminal: the person struggling with addiction or the corrupt pharmaceutical executive that has monetized the addiction?

MR. SACKLER: Well, I, I, I, I don’t believe that people struggling with addiction are criminals, though.


MR. SACKLER: I don’t believe—

REP. PRESSLEY: Are you and your family?


REP. PRESSLEY: I certainly, vehemently, disagree. I’m going to reclaim my time. And I also want to take a moment to just acknowledge the equitable outrage, which I appreciate, from both sides of the aisle, about this unjust, predatory practices which have decimated communities and destabilized families. I wish that there had been those same sentiments during the crack cocaine epidemic, which decimated urban communities and Black families still today.

Blaming people with substance use disorder is shameful. Your family’s rhetoric fuels the stigma and harmful policies that have denied people in need the resources they require to overcome their addiction.

We do not need another failed war on drugs. What we need is a reckoning and accountability for drug companies who put profits over people and rob us of the lives and freedom of our loved ones. You have created a nationwide epidemic. 450,000 people have died.

Let me be clear: people struggling with addiction are not criminals.

Your family and Purdue Pharma, you are the criminals. You are the ones who “disregard your duties to society.” And you should be ashamed of yourselves.

I yield back.

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