Previously undisclosed emails show how the Sackler family, which founded and owns a controlling stake in Purdue Pharma, reached out to former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg about handling the public relations fallout prompted by the exposure of Purdue’s role in the opioid epidemic.
The relationship, detailed by ProPublica, reveals that the Sacklers saw Bloomberg as an ally, so much so that they tried to get Bloomberg’s media company to stop “unflattering” reporting on their family in 2014, and turned to the former mayor for help in handling public relations around Purdue’s production of OxyContin in the wake of the crisis.
“I am meeting with Michael Bloomberg tomorrow morning at 10 am to seek his help and guidance on the current issues we are facing,” Mortimer Sackler, son of a co-founder of the company, wrote to Purdue’s top executives in December 2017. “I plan to discuss the following with him: 1. Current narrative vs the truth. 2. What advice does he have on how best to deal with it? 3. Does he have a journalist that he would recommend who could get the FULL story out there.”
Ahead of Sackler’s meeting with Bloomberg, Purdue communications head Josephine Martin emailed him suggesting the former mayor “would be helpful” with “his insights into the false narrative and our struggle to get a broader story about illegal heroin/fentanyl.”
She also spoke favorably of Bloomberg News for its reporting, after giving the outlet exclusives about the company’s response to lawsuits stemming from OxyContin abuse. “They were the only outlet we’ve gone on-the-record to discuss litigation,” she wrote.
Sackler asked Bloomberg for help in finding staff to handle crisis communications, which Bloomberg obliged by recommending his longtime mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser, who now works as Bloomberg’s presidential campaign spokesman. Sackler also met with the head of public health initiatives at Bloomberg Philanthropies, Kelly Henning, and allegedly asked her, along with Purdue CEO Craig Landau, to collaborate on a positive media campaign. “He presented that it’s the people’s fault, not the industry’s fault,” Henning told ProPublica.
A spokesperson from Sackler disputed Henning’s account, saying the meeting was simply “to find ways to help find solutions to a serious health care problem,” and that Sackler does not now and never did believe or state that people suffering from addiction are to blame for their addiction.”
Emails released last January indicate that members of the Sackler family wanted OxyContin to be prescribed at higher rates, even well after its addictive properties became clear.
In September, Purdue Pharma reached a multi-billion dollar settlement with 22 state attorneys general and thousands of local governments and tribes that had sued the drug manufacturer. Purdue then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
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