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Sackler family gets immunity, stays rich despite thousands of opioid epidemic deaths

New Jersey and 14 other states have reached a $4.5 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, ending years of legal battles over the company’s responsibility for the opioid epidemic.

The settlement was revealed in a mediator’s report filed late Wednesday in federal bankruptcy court in White Plains, in which the 15 states supported the settlement and agreed to drop their opposition to Purdue’s bankruptcy.

The Washington Post reports that about 40 states now support a bankruptcy deal that would require Purdue Pharma owners to contribute $4.5 billion from their family fortune.

“For nearly two years, since Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy, the company and the Sackler family have used every delay tactic possible and misused the courts — all in an effort to shield their misconduct,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“While this deal is not perfect, we are delivering $4.5 billion into communities ravaged by opioids on an accelerated timetable and it gets one of the nation’s most harmful drug dealers out of the opioid business once and for all,” said the New York Attorney General.

“While there may be relief among some lawyers, this deal failed to achieve justice and leaves more than half the Sackler family’s net worth intact despite clear proof that these drug dealers are responsible for thousands of deaths,” said Lisa McCormick, a justice advocate in New Jersey. “Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said documents show that members of the Sackler family, who have owned a controlling share of Purdue Pharma since 1952, are collectively worth a total of $11 billion.”

The Sacklers made their personal immunity from future lawsuits a key condition of the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy negotiations. The bid to protect the bulk of their fortune divided states after the proposal was first struck in September 2019.

“While I know this resolution does not bring back loved ones or undo the evil of what the Sacklers did, forcing them to turn over their secrets by providing all the documents, forcing them to repay billions, forcing the Sacklers out of the opioid business, and shutting down Purdue will help stop anything like this from ever happening again,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) said in a statement.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said New Jersey joined the deal with the Sackler family and their opioid-manufacturing drug company Purdue Pharma.

The lawsuits alleged that a greed-driven opioid marketing and sales strategy devised by Purdue and eight individual Sackler defendants fomented the opioid epidemic that has claimed countless lives in New Jersey and across the nation.

Under the global resolution announced by Grewal, the Sackler family will pay participating states a total of approximately $4.32 billion over the next nine years to fund efforts aimed at abating the opioid epidemic, including prevention, treatment and recovery efforts.

New Jersey’s share of the overall resolution will be approximately 2.75 percent of the funds available to the states for distribution from the bankruptcy proceeding, in an amount likely to exceed an estimated $110 million.

The resolution will also make public tens of millions of Sackler family and Purdue Pharma documents related to their role in the opioid epidemic.

Filed in bankruptcy court Wednesday evening and still subject to the court’s approval, the agreement announced today requires unprecedented disclosure about the role Purdue and the Sacklers played in creating and sustaining the opioid epidemic.

Among other things, it requires Purdue and the Sacklers to make public more than 30 million documents, including attorney-client privileged communications about the original FDA approval of Purdue’s flagship opioid painkiller OxyContin, as well as tactics used by Purdue to promote opioids. It also requires the Sackler defendants to make one of the largest payments that individuals have paid to resolve a law enforcement action in U.S. history.

After more than a year of high-stakes negotiations with billions of dollars on the line, a bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, cleared a major hurdle when federal Judge Robert Drain in White Plains, N.Y., moved the controversial deal forward despite objections from dozens of state attorneys general, setting the stage for a final vote by the company’s creditors expected this summer.

The drugmaker filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2019 facing an avalanche of lawsuits tied to its aggressive opioid sales practices.

Public health experts and many government officials say the introduction of OxyContin fueled the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic.

This development brings members of the Sackler family, some of whom own Purdue Pharma and served on the company’s board of directors, a step closer to winning immunity from future opioid lawsuits.

According to legal documents filed as part of the case, that immunity would extend to dozens of family members, more than 160 financial trusts, and at least 170 companies, consultants and other entities associated with the Sacklers.

In 2007, the company and three executives pled guilty to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about Oxycontin’s risk of addiction and its potential for abuse.

Oxycontin was introduced in 1995, and flourished under aggressive selling to doctors, which included providing free trips to pain-management seminars. The drug’s sole active ingredient is oxycodone, a chemical cousin of heroin.

Oxycontin has reportedly generated some $35 billion in revenue for the company, and the Sackler family has a total net worth of $11 billion, but while Purdue Pharma will cease to exist, the people responsible for killing nearly 500,000 people with opioid overdoses from 1999 through 2019, will remain very wealthy.

The Sackler family’s assets include:

Asset figures were calculated using data drawn from presentations prepared as part of Purdue Pharma L.P.’s bankruptcy proceedings, and provided to Congress on April 8, 2021 in response to letters sent by Maloney to counsel for David Sackler and Kathe Sackler on March 11, 2021. 

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