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Gillibrand pledges to go after drug companies over opioid crisis

The Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, "looked at drugs as a way to make billions of dollars," Gillibrand said.
Image: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at a town hall with MSNBC's Chris Hayes in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at a town hall with MSNBC's Chris Hayes in Auburn Hills, Michigan.Aaron J. Thornton / MSNBC

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday that drug manufacturers should be prosecuted for their role in the opioid crisis, and that if she's elected president, she'll attempt to hold companies like Purdue Pharma responsible.

"What we have to do is take on the drug manufacturers, who purposefully made these drugs stronger more addictive and now that we have the documents we know they did it because they wanted record sales," the 2020 hopeful said during an All In 2020 Town Hall with Chris Hayes, which will air in full on Monday evening on MSNBC. "They should be prosecuted."

The Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, began manufacturing and aggressively marketing opioid painkillers including OxyContin in the 1990s. They are widely credited with helping to ignite the opioid epidemic. Gillibrand argued the family used the drug as a moneymaker at the expense of the American public.

"What we know from the evidence of what's been gleaned from what the Sackler family did and how they looked at drugs as a way to make billions of dollars and making sure the dosage was higher so it was more addictive," the New York senator said in a clip of the town hall released on Monday. "The way they dampened down any investigation, any transparency and accountability, that is what we have to take on."

In January, Massachusetts' attorney general alleged in court filings that members of the Sackler family directed a years-long effort to mislead doctors and patients about the dangers of opioid painkillers, blame users who became addicted and up dosages to increase profitability. Purdue Pharma told NBC News that they deny the allegations made in the complaint.

Over the last 20 years, more than 200,000 people have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gillibrand sat down with Hayes in Auburn Hills, Michigan, where she is campaigning on her first trip after officially announcing her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination this weekend. The New York Democrat announced an exploratory committee in January.

During the town hall, she also spoke out against President Donald Trump, criticized his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, to big cheers and argued against Trump's tariffs and trade policies.

Asked about Islamophobia, she zeroed in on his administration's ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries and vowed to end it.

"I will stand up against white nationalism, and I will repeal the Muslim ban as soon as I am president of the United States," Gillibrand said. "Donald Trump did not create hate and racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism, but what he has done is poured fuel on a fire that is raging more than I've ever seen it in my lifetime."

Gillibrand also proposed creating a public service program that would pay for higher education.

"Imagine telling every American kid, if you do public service for a year you get two years free of community college or states," she said to cheers. “Imagine if you tell them, if you do two years of public service you get four years free.”