Some members of the billionaire Sackler family — the owners of Purdue Pharma, the company widely blamed for fueling America’s opioid crisis — will reap about $60 million in financial gains from the sale of 17 ski resorts in the Northeast and Midwest, according to financial disclosure filings.
Many of the ski areas in the transaction sit in places that have been hit hard by prescription narcotic abuse over the past 20 years, including those in New Hampshire, as well as hills in Vermont, the Catskills in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The sale of the ski resorts was finalized last week even as the family’s role in the opioid crisis is being hotly contested in courts.
With Purdue Pharma filing for bankruptcy this month as part of a massive proposed settlement of opioid litigation, the Sackler family’s business interests are under scrutiny by attorneys general across the country, some of whom have accused family members of attempting to shield their wealth.
Within the complex network of family business interests, the Sackler stake in the company that sold the ski areas, Peak Resorts Inc., represents just one strand. Court records indicate the wealth of Sackler family members who own Purdue is mostly tied up in private trusts and business entities domestically and overseas.
A review of public documents by The Washington Post shows the family also has an array of equities holdings and investments, including a private company drilling petroleum wells in South Texas, and public companies in heavy industry and construction.
The Peak Resort deal offers one window into the Sackler family’s sprawling financial empire.
The Sacklers have become the public face of the addiction epidemic, with attorneys general and researchers casting Purdue Pharma as a driver of opioid abuse, especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But the family says the drugs produced by Purdue Pharma represented only a small fraction of those consumed as the addiction crisis gained a hold on Americans.
Two of the larger jewels in the resort deal are Attitash and Wildcat. Yeaton and some public officials say it is wrong that Richard Sackler, Purdue’s former chairman and president, and others in his immediate family would profit in a state profoundly harmed by opioid addiction. Some have suggested they share the proceeds with local communities.
“Look at the devastation that has been caused here,’’ said Yeaton, the chief executive of White Horse Addiction Center, where doses of the overdose antidote Narcan are mounted on the wall for emergency access. “Don’t take the money and run.’’
Richard Sackler did not comment for this story. Family representatives declined to comment publicly.
The Sacklers’ financial interests in Peak Resorts, a publicly traded company purchased by Vail Resorts Inc., are detailed in disclosures filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Vail Resorts Inc. paid $11 a share for Peak Resorts and valued the deal at $264 million.
Purdue Pharma, which created vast wealth for the family, filed for bankruptcy Sept. 15. It is working on a tentative settlement with more than 2,000 communities and 29 states and territories that would include the guaranteed contribution of $3 billion from the family, derived at least in part from the sale of a Sackler-owned foreign drug company.
The company this month took the unusual step of asking the bankruptcy court to block litigation directly targeting individual Sackler family members that has been filed by 21 of the 24 state attorneys general who have rejected the proposed settlement.
Some of the dissenting attorneys general are attempting to track hundreds of millions of dollars that court filings say the Sacklers extracted from Purdue Pharma each year from 2008 to 2016.
In a bankruptcy court filing, the branch of the family that includes Richard Sackler said it “vigorously contests the claim that Purdue or the Sackler family is liable for the opioid crisis.’’
“The debate over the opioid crisis has been often misleading and, in terms of providing solutions to the nation’s urgent public health needs, mostly unproductive,’’ the family stated. “The family is hopeful that Purdue’s filing and the proposed settlement can be a turning point in that debate and focus all parties on delivering real help where it’s needed — in communities that are suffering.’’
Sackler purchases of stock in Peak Resorts were largely made through a family firm called Cap 1, a Delaware company incorporated in 2011, according to public records. Cap 1 is among Sackler-related entities that are the subjects of subpoenas by New York’s attorney general in the hunt for money taken out of Purdue, according to court filings.
“It is clear that the Sacklers withdrew a huge amount of money from Purdue Pharma,’’ said New Hampshire Associate Attorney General James Boffetti, who is the state’s lead attorney in lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and individual Sackler family members, including Richard Sackler. “To the extent that was used for these investments, including in the ski resorts, that is money that they would have only because of this deceptive marketing scheme that they have been running at Purdue.’’
But bankruptcy experts said disentangling such investments to increase awards to creditors would be difficult. If states persuade the bankruptcy court to allow them to recover Sackler family assets, they said, the first targets will be funds with the most direct connection to Purdue Pharma distributions.
No Purdue Pharma distributions went directly to Cap 1, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity. If Purdue distributions went to another account and mixed with money from other sources before going to Cap 1, it would make it impossible to say where the money originated, the person added.
The Sacklers saved and created jobs through their financial participation in Peak Resorts, the person said.
Purdue Pharma, based in Stamford, Conn., introduced OxyContin in 1996 and marketed it to doctors as a safer alternative for pain relief because of its time-release properties. It was not the most commonly prescribed narcotic pain pill in the United States, but it was among the most potent.
Within a few years, authorities in Virginia and other rural states publicly reported spikes in addiction and overdoses among people who were crushing up OxyContin pills and snorting or injecting them.
“Marketed aggressively in a campaign that began in 2000, OxyContin is widely regarded as the drug that initiated the current opioid medication misuse epidemic,’’ according to a comprehensive 2017 assessment of opioid addiction by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a government-chartered nonprofit.
Abuse of OxyContin continued until 2010 when Purdue introduced a crush-resistant formulation, the report said. Even then, the study said, “the reformulation decreased opioid medication misuse as intended but substantially increased heroin mortality,’’ as OxyContin users switched to a different drug.
In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three executives, none of them members of the Sackler family, pleaded guilty to misleading doctors about the addictive nature of the drug and paid more than $600 million in fines and other payments. Purdue at the time of the plea blamed “certain statements’’ by employees that were inconsistent with OxyContin’s FDA-approved label. “We accept responsibility for those past misstatements and regret that they were made,” the company said.
Later lawsuits by states and local governments contend Purdue Pharma continued to promote OxyContin deceptively after 2007, a charge the company has denied.
“At the direction of the Sacklers, Purdue created the epidemic and profited from it through a web of illegal deceit,’’ the New Hampshire attorney general’s office alleged in a civil complaint filed this month against Richard Sackler and three other family members. The Sacklers have denied the allegations in the New Hampshire complaint.
New Hampshire ranked the fourth-highest state in the per capita death rate from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to federal government data.
From 2006 to 2012, Purdue Pharma sales represented 7.3 percent of the New Hampshire oxycodone and hydrocodone market, according to a detailed U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database that was recently unsealed by a federal judge.
In North Conway, which is the closest commercial hub to Attitash, a cluster of six chain pharmacies received 5.4 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from 2006 to 2012, enough for 201 pills per year per person residing within a five-mile radius, according to the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS. That’s more than five times the national average of 36 pills per person per year.
Purdue manufactured a small fraction of the pills received by the North Conway pharmacies, according to the ARCOS data, with the majority of pills sold by two generic manufacturers, SpecGX LLC and Par Pharmaceutical.
Local officials in New Hampshire said few state residents are aware of the link between the sale of Peak Resorts and the Sackler family.
“There hasn’t been any outcry that we’ve been aware of,’’ said former New Hampshire House Speaker Gene Chandler, a Republican selectman in the town of Bartlett, the Carroll County hamlet that is home to Attitash. “Most people seem to be just interested in what’s best for the ski areas. If anything is going to offset opioid abuse and get control of it, it’s a good economy.’’
But some public officials are vocal about the Sacklers’ involvement in the ski resorts and the sale.
“That they are trying to . . . make money off that investment in the very state that suffered so severely from their deceit is appalling,’’ said state Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, of Peterborough. Dietsch lives 16 miles from Crotched Mountain, a third New Hampshire mountain in the sale of Peak Resorts holdings. She said Purdue Pharma bears heavy responsibility, even though it sold far fewer pills than generic competitors, because of its aggressive sales tactics.
“When you’re going into physicians’ offices and telling them that something is safe, even if they end up prescribing the generic, you are the one that has done the educating,’’ she said.
A shuttered motel with weeds and peeling paint across a rural road from the Crotched Mountain base lodge is in line to be developed as a residential facility for recovering addicts.
Crotched Mountain is in Hillsborough County, the same county as Manchester and Nashua, which are among the cities hit hardest by the opioid crisis in New England. One pharmacy in neighboring Rockingham County, Neighborcare of New Hampshire, which is part of CVS, sold 5.7 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from 2006 to 2012, the equivalent of 451 doses per year per person within a five-mile radius, according to the ARCOS data. As in other towns and counties, the sale of generic opioids in Hillsborough County greatly outnumbered those of OxyContin.
Mount Snow in Vermont, Hunter Mountain in New York, and Jack Frost, Whitetail, Roundtop and Liberty in Pennsylvania also were part of the deal.
One of the smaller ski hills in the sale was Boston Mills/Brandywine in Summit County, south of Cleveland, where a federal judge is presiding over litigation brought by more than 2,000 plaintiffs against Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, Teva and major distributors, as well as chain pharmacies.
Summit — a populous county where the equivalent of 44 pain pills per person per year were sold during the seven years tracked by the ARCOS data — is one of two counties that will go first in the case.
The Sackler investment in Boston Mills/Brandywine has personal resonance for Greg McNeil, of Hudson, Ohio, whose son Samuel McNeil died of a heroin overdose in 2015, when he was 28 years old.
“Sam grew up skiing on that mountain, so we had many, many fun days,’’ said McNeil, who since his son’s death has set up a charitable foundation and a podcast on addiction issues. The ski area is a 15-minute drive from the family’s home.
Samuel McNeil was prescribed pain pills after being treated for injuries suffered in a New Year’s Eve fight in 2007. Within weeks, Sam was buying pain pills on the street, including OxyContin, eventually leading to heroin and stints in and out of recovery, Greg McNeil said.
He said Richard Sackler, whose family is well-known for supporting fine-art museums, should “pivot’’ and plow profits gleaned from the Peak Resort gains into addiction-related philanthropy.
“There’s a lot that the Sackler family can do so other families don’t have the same experience — the same thing we had with a loved one,’’ McNeil said.
The person familiar with the matter pointed out that if the proposed settlement is accepted by the bankruptcy court, the Sacklers will be offering $3 billion to assist local governments in dealing with the costs of the opioid epidemic, as well as transforming Purdue Pharma into a public trust to produce overdose rescue drugs and distribute them free.
Attorneys general from Virginia, Oregon, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut and several other states have asserted in lawsuits that the Sacklers began withdrawing billions from the company over a decade ago, allegedly to shield it from anticipated litigation.
The Sacklers have denied the allegation. In court filings, they have said there is no evidence Purdue knew that a “tsunami’’ of OxyContin litigation would be filed against the company.
Massachusetts said it has documented more than $4 billion in distributions from Purdue to the family between 2008 and 2016. Oregon has said the amount rises to $11 billion when tax-related transfers and transfers to other family-controlled companies are included in the total.
Questions about where all that money went — and whether the family should forfeit more — have been cited by states that have rejected the proposed bankruptcy settlement. All New England states, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the District of Columbia, are among those that have shunned the pact.
New York has subpoenaed large financial institutions to turn over records relating to about 55 Sackler-related trusts, partnerships, corporations and foundations, according to court records. The company that made the Sackler investment in the Peak Resorts ski company — Cap 1 LLC — is on that list.
Cap 1 is controlled by a family trust whose beneficiaries include Richard Sackler; his son, David Sackler; and his mother, Beverly Sackler, according to SEC documents. All three are former Purdue Pharma board members and have been named as defendants in various lawsuits. Beverly Sackler, 95, is the widow of one of Purdue Pharma’s founding brothers, Raymond Sackler.
Cap 1 and Richard Sackler first bought Peak Resorts stock in 2015, a year after the ski resort company went public. Recent Peak Resorts public disclosures show that Cap 1 and the Sacklers held common stock, preferred shares and warrants allowing for the purchase of additional stock, equal to 54 percent of the company’s shares.
At the $11 share price offered by Vail, Cap 1 stood to gain about $60 million in profit on its investment in Peak Resorts, according to terms disclosed in company filings. Richard and David Sackler would gain another $1 million from shares of common stock they held separately in their own names.
“The 10 counties in the state of New Hampshire spent over $60 million between 2015 and 2019 on the opioid problem,’’ said Amanda Bevard, chairwoman of the board of commissioners in Carroll County, which includes Attitash ski resort. “It would be really nice if they would donate their profits back to the state of New Hampshire’s counties.’’