By 2016, Rhodes, though little known to the public, had a greater share of the American prescription opioid market than Purdue, according to a Financial Times analysis. Together, the companies ranked seventh in terms of the market share of opioids.
Purdue temporarily abandoned plans to pursue Project Tango in 2014, but revived the idea two years later, this time pursuing a plan to sell naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug, according to the Massachusetts filing. A few months later, in December 2016, Richard, Jonathan and Mortimer Sackler discussed buying a company that used implantable drug pumps to treat opioid addiction.
In recent years, the Sacklers and their companies have been developing products for opioid and overdose treatment on various tracks. Last year, Richard Sackler was awarded a patent for a version of buprenorphine, a drug that blocks opioid receptors, administered by mouth in a thin film. In March, the F.D.A. fast tracked the company’s application for an injectable drug for emergency treatment of overdoses.
Purdue has said it is taking charitable steps to curb opioid addiction, and last year donated $3.4 million to a nonprofit developing a nasal spray that uses the drug naloxone to treat opioid overdoses.
But the funnel that Purdue once described is full, and overflowing at both ends. David Sackler spent a reported $22.5 million on a Bel Air mansion last year. Mortimer’s Amagansett spread has been featured in Vogue. Theresa Sackler was made a dame and is a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Last week, three Democratic senators from states hit hard by the opioid epidemic, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, sent a letter to Purdue, insisting that it make a more formal commitment not to make money from the treatments.
“Indeed,” they wrote, “it is a maxim of the common law in this country that no one should be allowed to profit from his own wrongdoing.”