Opioid epidemic: Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers shouldn’t get off without paying more

Market trading boards are seen at the Australian Securities Exchange in Sydney, Friday, February 9, 2018. ( AAP Image/Ben Rushton) NO ARCHIVING

Purdue Pharma, the criminal company that made billions off the opioid epidemic, has filed its plan to emerge from bankruptcy. But this is no ordinary bankruptcy.  The harm inflicted by Purdue’s OxyContin business and its billionaire owners, the Sackler family, is so vast that communities across America are creditors in the case.  Sometime soon, almost every city and state will be asked to decide whether to accept Purdue’s offer, or make Purdue amend its plan to do better. 

They must do better. Together with Attorneys General from across the nation, I’m demanding that Purdue amend its plan and file a new one that holds the perpetrators accountable. Here’s why:

Purdue’s plan gives the Sacklers a free pass to keep billions they made by breaking the law.

Purdue is guilty

Purdue has admitted it committed felonies to sell OxyContin, including paying illegal kickbacks and defrauding the DEA.  Now, Purdue wants the court to give the Sacklers immunity from lawsuits by states, cities and everyone they hurt in exchange for a “contribution” of $4.275 billion paid over 9 years: an amount that is too small and paid over so many years that the Sacklers will walk away richer than they are today. The Sacklers pocketed so many billions from OxyContin that they can sit back while their money makes money, with investment returns of hundreds of millions each year.  Purdue wants to let the Sacklers buy immunity for less than those investment returns, so their OxyContin fortune will just keep growing.

How can anyone justify that?  Purdue says the public should accept the Sacklers’ price because we need their money to fix the crisis the Sacklers caused.  They want to use the disaster they created as leverage to buy immunity at a bargain price.  That’s an insult to the survivors, advocates, families, nonprofits, cities, and states that have made countless sacrifices to respond to this crisis for decades.  The public demands that lawbreakers be held accountable.

OxyContin pills on Feb. 19, 2012, in Montpelier, Vermont. (Photo: Toby Talbot/AP)

Purdue is still trying to cover up the facts. 

The law requires a bankrupt company to disclose information that creditors need to make an informed judgment before a plan is approved. But Purdue says it will show the evidence to the public after the Sacklers get immunity.  That’s backwards.

The nation deserves to know how Purdue and the Sacklers caused the opioid epidemic. My team uncovered the Sacklers’ illegal conduct. We worked with prosecutors from across the country to question the Sacklers and their accomplices under oath. But Purdue and the Sacklers claimed their testimony was confidential. That testimony should be released now, before anyone lets the Sacklers off the hook. And Purdue’s amended plan should require and fund a public repository of every document that investigators got from Purdue and the Sacklers in this case.

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Purdue wants the government to take over its OxyContin business.

To give the Sacklers a family legacy, Purdue proposed that the government take over the OxyContin business after the bankruptcy and run it as a public trust. That’s perverse. Massachusetts sued Purdue for killing our residents. We do not want to own an opioid company — least of all the company at the heart of this national tragedy.  We want a prompt and orderly wind-down of this disgraced business.

Fight to hold Purdue responsible

Attorneys General, Senators, Representatives, advocates, doctors, and scholars have been crystal clear:  A business that killed thousands of Americans should not be associated with government. As a coalition of advocates wrote: “For our government to prop up Purdue and give OxyContin a special public status is the opposite of justice.”

Here’s why this fight matters:

For more than 20 years, families have been calling for Purdue and the Sacklers to be held accountable. Those families are right.

Justice in this case matters to every person who has suffered in the opioid crisis, and it matters to me. I sued the Sacklers in order to enforce the law and deliver justice. Purdue asked the court to keep my lawsuit secret. My team fought back and revealed the results of our investigation to the world. Then, Purdue tried to get our suit dismissed. We defeated Purdue’s arguments, in a courtroom packed with families who had seen their loved ones injured or killed by Purdue’s drugs. So, the Sacklers put their company into bankruptcy, in a final ploy to avoid justice.

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Last year, Kathe Sackler testified before Congress and spelled out her lack of remorse.  She said: “there’s nothing that I can find that I would have done differently.”

I’ll make it easy. Here’s what the Sacklers and Purdue should do differently: Pay up. Let the public see every document in this case. And keep the government out of the opioid business.

The people deserve justice, and it’s time to deliver it.

Maura Healey is the attorney general of Massachusetts and brought the first state suit against the Sackler family.

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