A major push to hold the Sackler family legally accountable for their role in the opioid crisis essentially ended today when a U.S. Bankruptcy Court ruled that the family’s company, Purdue Pharma, creators of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, would be dissolved and the family owners would pay $4.5 billion to address the opioid pandemic, while protecting the family from future liability.
The resolution ends thousands of lawsuits brought against the drugmaker and its owners by state and local governments, tribes, hospitals, and individuals, and it releases the family from current and future civil suits against them for their role in the opioid crisis, which has killed more than 500,000 people nationwide. The family will dole out the billions of dollars over nine years, with most of the funds going toward addiction treatment and prevention programs.
The resolution comes nearly two years after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Many states’ attorneys general objected to the plan before its approval, and in recent months, Congressional Democrats introduced legislation to try to stop the Sacklers from using corporate bankruptcy as protection against personal liability. Washington State’s attorney general has already filed an appeal to the decision, with more expected.
Purdue and the Sacklers have a long history of litigation. In 2007, the company pleaded guilty to a felony charge for misrepresenting the addictiveness of OxyContin. In 2020, it pleaded guilty to more felony charges that they’d marketed drugs to high-volume providers despite suspecting the providers were distributing them illegally. Between 2008 and 2017, as legal pressure on the company increased and after Sackler family members speculated by email with a financial adviser about the security of the family’s wealth, the family took more than $10 billion out of the company and moved it to trusts and holding companies. Half of that $10 billion went to taxes or was reinvested in the business. “[W]hat do you think is going on in all of these courtrooms right now?” David Sackler wrote in 2007. “We’re rich? For how long? Until which suits get through to the family?”
They will remain one of the nation’s wealthiest families.
Correction: This story previously stated that the Sackler family was ordered to pay billions of dollars; they are contributing it as part of the settlement.