Family Who Made Billions From Opioid Crisis Can Now Be Sued By Families Who Lost Everything Because Of It
Back in September, US Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert B. Drain approved a bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma — maker of OxyContin — that gave its billionaire owners, the Sackler family, "global peace" from lawsuits related to OxyContin and their part in the opioid crisis. In exchange for this immunity, the Sacklers were to forfeit their ownership of Purdue Pharma and pay out around $4.5 billion that would be directed towards fighting the opioid crisis that they helped create and, by their own estimations, from which they earned at least $10 billion.
All in all, it was a pretty big win for them, and a pretty big loss for families affected by the opioid crisis, practically none of whom got to come out of it with a $5.5 billion profit. (Talk about every billionaire is a policy failure.) It was, unsurprisingly, a pretty unpopular decision among pretty much everyone whose last name was not Sackler.
But on Thursday night, Federal Judge Colleen McMahon of New York upended that decision, saying that Judge Drain simply did not have the authority to approve a settlement giving the Sacklers immunity because they were not the ones declaring bankruptcy.
Via the New York Times:
Lawyers for a small group of states that had appealed the plan immediately hailed the ruling. “This is a seismic victory for justice and accountability that will re-open the deeply flawed Purdue bankruptcy and force the Sackler family to confront the pain and devastation they have caused,” said William Tong, the attorney general of Connecticut.
In recent months, members of Congress have proposed legislation called “The Sackler Act” to preclude owners from receiving such protections unless they file for bankruptcy themselves. But even if eventually passed, it is unlikely to become law in sufficient time to resolve the Purdue case.
In her ruling, Judge McMahon all but openly invited the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to weigh in. Various appellate courts disagree on the matter and, in her meticulous, 142-page assessment, Judge McMahon wrote that “the lower courts desperately need a clear answer.”
The Sackler family has remained relatively unapologetic for its role in the opioid crisis, despite literally owning the company that manufactured and developed OxyContin and marketed it directly to doctors and medical students, encouraging them to prescribe it to their patients and aggressively downplaying the risks of the risks of addiction and overdose with the drug. In a statement to NPR following the initial bankruptcy settlement, representatives for the Mortimer Sackler branch of the family said, "While we dispute the allegations that have been made about our family, we have embraced this path in order to help combat a serious and complex public health crisis."
Of course, those "allegations" have been well-documented. This was not even close to a situation where the family just owned the company and was relatively hands-off otherwise. Robert Sackler, in his capacity as co-chairman, was even so concerned at one point that sales reps were not pushing OxyContin to doctors hard enough that he started personally shadowing them to ensure they were following his orders. Sackler also whined in an email about the fact that the company's drugs required a legally mandated warning, saying the warning “implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren’t there.”
Except for how they were there. The issue is not with the Sacklers simply owning a company that happened to manufacture a drug that people got addicted to or that doctors prescribed when they shouldn't have, but with the specific way the drug was marketed and pushed — which they not only profited from but directly had a hand in.
Right now, the family is named in over 800 lawsuits that can now go forward due to Judge McMahon's decision, and hopefully these people will no longer be billionaires by the time these families are done suing their faces off.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse