The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Deal with Purdue Pharma leaves families angry, conflicted
Among the families who lost children and other loved ones in the nation’s opioid crisis, many had held out hope of someday facing Stamford-based 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 all of 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 through treatment and education programs. Also, victims of drug addiction can receive payments ranging from $3,500 to $48,000.
The conclusion to the case left families conflicted, deflated and still angry.
A half-million Americans have died from opioids over the past two decades, a toll that includes victims of prescription painkillers like 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 an estimated $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. Lawyers for Purdue and the Sackler family disputed the estimate.
“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, Fla.
The settlement came nearly two years after the 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?”
Bisch, who has spent more than a decade pushing for the Sacklers to be criminally prosecuted, is leading a group of families that are asking the U.S. Justice Department to appeal the settlement.
“The Sacklers are buying immunity with blood money,” said Bisch, of Westampton, N.J. “The only silver lining is their name is mud, and it will forever be mud.”