Irony alert: A billionaire accused of worsening the opioid crisis just won a patent for a drug to treat opioid addiction, Stat News reports. Richard Sackler, whose family owns OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, is one of six inventors behind a new medication that could help people get off drugs including opioids. It would be a new kind of buprenorphine—a gentle opiate that curbs drug cravings—which is already FDA-approved in film-strip or tablet form and now would come in wafers disintegrating quickly under the tongue, per the Financial Times. The best-selling version of buprenorphine, Suboxone, made $877 million in US sales for the British pharmaceutical company Indivior.
The patent application says the new drug would help ease crime caused by addicts, but doesn't mention the thousand-plus lawsuits filed against Purdue Pharma for allegedly spurring the opioid epidemic. "It's reprehensible what Purdue Pharma has done to our public health," says the director of an addiction treatment center in Staten Island, New York. He adds that Sackler's family "shouldn't be allowed to peddle any more synthetic opiates—and that includes opioid substitutes." The Sacklers, known mostly for philanthropy before the opioid epidemic, deny fueling a crisis that killed 42,000 people in 2016. In related news, Julia Roberts is starring in the new film Ben Is Back about a mother dealing with an opioid-addicted son who comes home for Christmas, per USA Today. (Read more opioids stories.)