Deal with OxyContin maker leaves families angry, conflicted
Drugmaker’s owners to pay $4.5B, give up company ownership
Among the families who lost children and other loved ones in the nation’s opioid crisis, many had held out hope of someday facing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners in a courtroom.
That prospect all but vanished Wednesday after a bankruptcy judge conditionally approved a settlement worth an estimated $10 billion. It was a deal that left many of those families feeling they didn’t get what they really wanted.
There was no apology from members of the Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma, they weren’t forced to give up their vast fortune and there was no chance to confront them face-to-face about the lives lost to opioids.
Instead, the individual victims, thousands of state and local governments, and other entities that sued Purdue Pharma agreed to a deal in which the Sacklers will pay $4.5 billion and give up ownership of the company, which will be reorganized.
The company’s profits and the Sacklers’ contribution will go toward fighting opioid addiction via treatment and education programs. Also, victims of drug addiction can receive payments ranging from $3,500 to $48,000.
But the conclusion to the case left families conflicted, deflated and still angry.
“Am I happy they don’t have to admit guilt and give up all their money? Of course not,” said Lynn Wencus of Wrentham, Massachusetts. “But what would that do? It doesn’t bring my son back and it doesn’t help those who are suffering.”
In the first years after her son Jeff died of an overdose in 2017, all she wanted was vengeance. While her anger remains, she is hopeful the settlement will finally bring help to communities ravaged by overdoses.
“I know people … want the Sacklers to suffer,” she said. “But the reality is we need money to get into the states, into education, into treatment.”
A half-million Americans have died from opioids over the past two decades, a toll that includes victims of such prescription painkillers as OxyContin and Vicodin, and illicit drugs, such as heroin and street-grade fentanyl.
In one of the hardestfought provisions in the settlement, the family will be protected from any future opioid lawsuits. While the Sacklers weren’t given immunity from criminal charges, there have been no indications they will face any.
Despite the settlement, the family could see its wealth rise from some $10.7 billion to more than $14 billion over the coming decade, according to a group of state attorneys general who based their projection on investment returns and interest.
“Their lives aren’t going to change. It’s a shame there can’t be something done that would make them suffer with the rest of us,” said Tamara Graham of St. Petersburg, Florida.
But she was willing to accept the outcome because it gives her a sliver of hope that the money for treatment could save her youngest brother, who has struggled with addiction for longer than she can remember.
“I wish that I could stand up there,” she said. “I would love to make them watch a video of him going through withdrawals, the pain, the vomiting, him begging us to kill him.”
The settlement came nearly two years after the Stamford, Connecticutbased company filed for bankruptcy while facing some 3,000 lawsuits that accused Purdue of fueling the crisis by aggressively pushing sales of OxyContin.
“You don’t take the architects of the opioid crisis and give them a sweetheart deal,” said Ed Bisch, whose 18-year-old son died of an overdose nearly 20 years ago. “Where is the deterrent?”