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Nan Goldin, The Sackler Courtyard, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2017.
Nan Goldin, The Sackler Courtyard, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2017.

Sackler Family Pays $4.5 Billion to Settle Opioid Lawsuits as Purdue Pharma Is Dissolved

Thousands of lawsuits relating to the aggressive marketing of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin were brought to a close yesterday as Judge Robert Drain of the US Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York, ordered that the drug’s maker, Purdue Pharma, be dissolved and that its owners, members of the Sackler family, pay $4.5 billion of their personal wealth toward the creation of addiction and prevention programs. The Stamford, Connecticut–based Purdue had been charged with assertively marketing OxyContin and providing kickbacks to doctors who prescribed the powerful opioid while downplaying its addictive qualities, resulting in rampant overprescription, an accompanying surge of related addictions, and more than half a million deaths across the United States. As part of yesterday’s settlement, the Sackler family members will be shielded from further lawsuits relating to OxyContin, thus enjoying the type of protection that is typically awarded to companies filing for bankruptcy, rather than to individuals. Of note, no Sackler family member took responsibility for the opioid crisis or offered an apology to any of the suing entities, which ranged from state governments to tribes to individuals.

According to the terms of the settlement, the involved Sacklers will pay out the $4.5 billion, which included federal settlement fees, over a span of nine years. Purdue Pharma will be reorganized and almost certainly rebranded, with no Sackler able to have a hand in the new company. The new drugmaker’s profits will also go to addiction centers.

Drain, who described the outcome as “bitter” and openly lamented the amount of Sackler money squirreled away in offshore accounts, according to the New York Times, has been widely criticized for allowing the involved Sacklers to escape bankruptcy at no great personal loss and without admitting their individual guilt in relation to the long-running marketing scheme. He has contended that the settlement represents the fastest way to get money into education and treatment, and into the hands of victims of addiction, who are eligible for payouts ranging from about $3,500 to roughly $48,000. The Sackler family, in the meantime, will remain one of the wealthiest in the country, and is projected to grow even richer during the nine-year payout span.

Most distressing for many victims of the opioid crisis was the denial of a chance to face the involved Sacklers in open court. “I would love to make them watch a video of [my little brother] going through withdrawals,” Tamara Graham of St. Petersburg, Florida, told the Baltimore Sun. “The pain, the vomiting, him begging us to kill him.”

“It’s been a real lesson in the corruption of this country to watch this court, that billionaires have a different justice systems than the rest of us, and that they can actually walk away unscathed,” artist Nan Goldin told New York magazine. Goldin founded the advocacy group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) after becoming addicted to OxyContin, which she was prescribed following an injury, and has since led efforts to prevent Sackler family members from “artwashing” profits gained from Purdue via large donations made to museums in return for naming rights. “A big issue for us is the museums taking down [the Sackler] name,” said Goldin. “We ruined their reputation, which was of utmost importance to them.”

Several states, including Connecticut and Washington, have already said they will appeal the ruling.

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