The $4 billion settlement and restructuring plan of Purdue Pharma is in its final review phase. Should the plan be approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain, the Sackler family, many members of which served in executive positions for Purdue, would receive immunity. The settlement would also likely put an end to two decades of litigation against the company best known for producing the painkiller most heavily associated with the opioid epidemic, Oxycontin.
Brothers Raymond and Mortimer Sackler acquired Purdue Pharma in 1952. Prior to being the notorious face of the opioid crisis, the Sacklers were hailed for their humanitarian and philanthropic works. The Sackler name graced several institutions of higher learning and culture including Yale University, Tate, the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. These institutions and others, according to the New York Times in late 2020, announced they would no longer be accepting donations or gifts from some or all members of the Sackler family.
Oxycontin was approved by the FDA in late 1995 and entered the marketplace the following year. By 2001, the opioid drug was the most prescribed brand-name narcotic for treating moderate to severe pain. From 1999 to 2019, nearly 500,000 Americans died as the result of an opioid overdose, including illicit opiates such as heroin and fentanyl as well as prescription opioids.
According to Business Insider, a new book released in May called “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty,” details, among other things, how an FDA director who oversaw the approval of OxyContin secured a $400,000 job at Purdue Pharma a year later.
Generating over $35 billion in sales since its introduction to the market, Oxycontin eventually became the centerpiece of the opioid epidemic. By 2019, 36 states had filed suit against Purdue Pharma. And by March of this year, over 100,000 personal injury claims related to Oxycontin had been filed against the company.
Facing a staggering over $2 trillion in litigation against 49 states and other entities, Purdue Pharma offered to settle opioid claims for approximately $12 billion in August 2019.
The company has admitted to misleading doctors and the public about the risk of addiction to Oxycontin, and twice pleaded guilty to federal crimes (in 2007 and 2020). However, no members of the Sackler family were ever charged, despite the fact that the family was accused of draining company coffers to personally enrich themselves.
As part of the $4.325 billion settlement to resolve approximately 3,000 lawsuits with states, municipalities and tribal nations, no member of the Sackler family will face criminal charges nor have to admit to any wrongdoing. Furthermore, NPR reports, the Sacklers will be granted immunity from future opioid lawsuits.
Should the settlement plan be formally approved, the Sacklers would pay over $4 billion of their own fortune (which has recently been estimated to be worth over $11 billion) over the course of nine years. Not only would members of the Sacklers receive broad immunity, so, too, would foundations, trusts, business associates, attorneys, lobbyists, Purdue subsidiaries and other entities, reports The Defender.