In a court ruling earlier this week, a federal judge approved a massive, multi-billion dollar settlement between local governments and the Sackler family. The Sacklers - founders of Purdue Pharmaceuticals - are thought to be the single largest contributor
Purdue Pharma is a multi-decade old company that is thought to be largely responsible for the opioid epidemic. This is due to their creation of OxyContin and a variety of related drugs. The proliferation of Oxy is the single biggest factor that led to the opioid epidemic.
OxyContin was aggressively marketed by the Sackler family, with a variety of accusations also leveled at the Sacklers and Purdue for how they marketed the drug. Many accusations have been leveled against the company: Data seems to show that they were aware of Oxy's addictive properties decades before those dangers came to light, that they actively ignored and downplayed the dangers of Oxy, and that they continued to market the drug to doctors who were illegally or inappropriately describing the drug. The family gave sales bonuses to salespeople who sold the product while also actively encouraging them to ignore and contraindications about the sale of the drug.
The drug made the family and Purdue Pharma billions, but it also kickstarted the opioid epidemic that has destroyed communities, killed tens of thousands of people annually, and cost local units of government billions of dollars. In response to their involvement, many state Attorneys General sued the Sacklers and Purdue, seeking financial damages against them in the same way that cigarette companies were held responsible for the dangers of nicotine and tobacco.
The recent settlement may provide some sense of closure.
This is not a small settlement. Despite his misgivings, Federal Judge Robert Drain approved a $4.3 billion settlement that will be paid to local and state communities in order to help them provide treatment and recovery options. Furthermore, the Sackler's will give up control of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, meaning that they will no longer control the company and will no longer be able to profit off of the opioid epidemic.
Critically, the settlement will also provide all members of the Sackler family immunity from any future legal charges that the Sacklers may face. It also precludes the possibility of future civil action.
The settlement is a highly controversial one. Many Attorneys General and victims have criticized it, saying it doesn't go nearly far enough and noting that it will allow the Sacklers to escape any real personal liability. With their massive amount of wealth, the family will be able to continue to live a wealthy lifestyle, although their donations have been largely shunned by modern society. '
Indeed, even Judge Drain expressed concern for the settlement as he approved it, noting that he would have thought a higher amount could have been obtained. Furthermore, the Sackler family still refuses to take any responsibility for their role in the epidemic. They have also refused to apologize for Purdue's role.
If this is truly the end of the opioid saga for the Sacklers, they will get away relatively scot-free. While the settlement against them is massive, much of the rest of the Sackler empire remains untouched. They still have a massive amount of wealth in other assets and trusts, meaning that their financial future is secure.
The next question will be for the participating governmental units as they determine how to divide the money and then spend it. If the settlement amount follows past precedent - like the Master Settlement Agreement that was agreed to with tobacco companies - governmental units will be entitled to a certain amount of money based on a variety of pre-determined factors, likely including harm caused by opioids, including death, rates of addiction, and local economic damage.
This settlement is an important "next step" in the opioid epidemic fight, but all parties agree that the issue is still very far from resolved. Nine states and Washington, D.C. fought against the settlement, and it seems likely that many of these states will continue to explore their legal options.
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