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Despite opposition from the Department of Justice and attorneys general from 9 states and the District of Columbia, federal Judge Robert Drain ruled on Wednesday that members of the Sackler family, the former owners of pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma, are immune from lawsuits over their role in the Opioid epidemic.
The decision, which was part of a larger bankruptcy settlement hammered out behind closed doors over the last few years, was delivered somewhat begrudgingly by Judge Drain. Drain stated that it was a, “bitter result,” going on to say that despite his ruling, his opinion is that, “at least some of the Sackler parties have liability” when it comes to their role in the destruction wrought by OxyContin and other Opioids.
Approximately $4.3 billion will be paid out by members of the Sackler family as part of the settlement, though the family did not admit to any wrongdoing and refused to apologize for their role in the Opioid epidemic. The money will go to, “communities and people in need” according to a website launched by members of the Sackler family, who have also forfeited their ownership of Purdue Pharma as part of the deal.
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Members of the Sackler family had good reason to fear lawsuits over their wrongdoing; their company has pleaded guilty to criminal charges on 2 separate occasions in regard to irresponsible branding and distribution of Opioid drugs.
On the first occasion in 2007, the parent company of Purdue Company as well as 3 top executives pleaded guilty to intentionally deceptive marketing practices that minimized the side effects and abuse potential of Oxycontin. Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty again in 2020. According to Rachael A. Honig, First Assistant US Attorney for the District of New Jersey, the company admitted culpability in, “[marketing] and [selling] its dangerous [Opioid] products to healthcare providers, even though it had reason to believe those providers were diverting them to abusers.”
The misdeeds of the Sackler family have previously led to public outcry. Protesters have repeatedly participated in demonstrations that highlight the Sackler family’s role in the Opioid epidemic and object to the ties that the family, worth several billions of dollars, has to many high-profile universities and institutions. Specifically, activists asked that Harvard University and the Guggenheim Museum, both of which have received donations from the Sacklers, refuse any future funding from the family.
One student characterized the demonstrations by saying that, “It reminded me of stories of protesters laying down in Wall Street during the Aids epidemic. These institutions all have dirty hands.”
It’s possible that members of the Sackler family may still see legal consequences for their role in the Opioid epidemic, as none other than Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has vowed to fight against the decision granting them immunity from Opioid lawsuits.
“This order lets the Sacklers off the hook by granting them permanent immunity from lawsuits in exchange for a fraction of the profits they made from the [Opioid] epidemic — and sends a message that billionaires operate by a different set of rules than everybody else,” said AG Ferguson, who went on to declare that the ruling is, “insulting to victims of the [Opioid] epidemic who had no voice in these proceedings — and must be appealed.”
It’s not the first time that AG Ferguson has gone up against a pharmaceutical company. Ferguson previously notched a courtroom victory against Johnson & Johnson after successfully suing for the release of thousands of documents detailing the drug company’s Opioid dealings.
Of his ongoing legal efforts, AG Ferguson said that “We are aggressively litigating all of our [Opioid] cases, and we are keeping these multinational corporations and their army of lawyers on their heels.”
Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.