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From Immunity to Appeals: Will the Sacklers be brought to Justice?

It would be nice to believe that the law is fair and just, but unfortunately money can bend both fairness and justice... Read More

It would be nice to believe that the law is fair and just, but unfortunately money can bend both fairness and justice. Earlier this month at a hearing held in White Plains, New York, the Sackler family, who have profited greatly from the opioid epidemic, won sweeping immunity from opioid lawsuits linked to their privately owned company Purdue Pharma and its Oxycontin medication.  Federal Judge Robert Drain approved a bankruptcy settlement on Wednesday September 1st that grants the Sacklers “global peace” from any liability for the opioid epidemic. 

The bankrupt plan was negotiated in intense closed-door mediation sessions over the past two years. The deal agreed upon grants “releases” from liability for harm caused by Oxycontin and other opioids to the Sacklers, hundreds of their associates, and their remaining companies and trusts. In return, they agreed to pay $4.3 billion, while also relinquishing ownership of Purdue Pharma. This is a paltry price to pay for the thousands of lives lost to opioids, which their company recklessly marketed. The Sacklers’ total net worth is approximately $11 Billion. They hold $950 million in cash, and $2.9 billion in marketable securities, hedge funds, and brokerage accounts.  

Drain said that “This is a bitter result…I believe that at least some of the Sackler parties have liability for those [opioid OxyContin] claims. … I would have expected a higher settlement.” In his ruling Drain acknowledged that Purdue Pharma’s products contributed to “a massive public health crisis.” Drain believes this settlement offers an opportunity to help communities with funding for drug treatment and other opioid abatement programs. 

The Sacklers continue to admit no wrongdoing and will get to sit atop their $10 Billion profit from the opioid epidemic. Despite what they have to pay, they’ll still remain one of the wealthiest families in the world. In a statement sent to NPR, the Mortimer Sackler branch of the family wrote, “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.” Judge Drain noted that members of the Sackler family declined to issue an apology. Drain conceited that “A forced apology is not really an apology. So we will have to live without one.” 

Critics have voiced their opinions of this horrendous ruling. In a tweet, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said “This order is insulting to victims of the opioid epidemic who had no voice in these proceedings — and must be appealed.” According to NPR, “In a series of legal briefs and during a bankruptcy trial over the last two weeks, the Department of Justice urged Drain to reject the settlement. Attorneys general for nine states and the District of Columbia also opposed the plan.” The Attorneys general also argued that this settlement unfairly denies victims and governments the right to sue the Sacklers. 


As of September 16th, this immunity for the Sacklers has been challenged by the US Department of Justice. As reported by NPR, “A division of the Justice Department that serves as a watchdog over the federal bankruptcy system filed an appeal late Wednesday seeking to block the controversial Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan.” In the weeks following Drain’s ruling, the Justice Department called his ruling both “unlawful” and “unconstitutional.” US Trustee William Harrington accused the Sacklers and their associates of using the bankruptcy system to avoid liability so they could maintain profit over the most “severe” public health crisis in the states. NPR reports that “The Justice Department requested an expedited hearing within the next two weeks. The states of Maryland and Washington as well as Washington, D.C., also have filed appeals.” 

For now we will have to wait to find out if these appeals yield any results. Perhaps justice will still be wrought upon the Sacklers. 


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