America’s 19th-richest family, the Sackler clan, made unfathomable riches by flooding the globe with OxyContin, sparking an opioid-addiction crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
They now look set to keep the vast majority of their estimated $13 billion fortune if a controversial settlement, supported by the judge presiding over a key bankruptcy trial, is accepted by a Trump White House reportedly keen to declare some form of “victory” over Big Pharma before the election.
The New Yorker reports the Sacklers, who own Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, have said they will pay out a guaranteed $3 billion to states to help remediate the costs of the opioid crisis—but only if they face no criminal liability.
The magazine reports family members have systematically transferred billions of dollars out of Purdue Pharma, parking the cash offshore and beyond the reach of U.S. authorities as their case winds through bankruptcy proceedings.
The family has also offered to allow future earnings from the sale of OxyContin to go toward compensation funds, which the company argues could total in the billions of dollars. Critics say that to propose remediating the problem caused by their drug by continuing to sell it is breathtakingly cynical.
In court papers seen by The New Yorker, the Sackler family says it will make the payout if it is released from “all potential federal liability arising from or related to opioid-related activities.”
The presiding judge has urged states to consider accepting the settlement rather than see the funds swallowed up by legal fees.
The New Yorker reports that, behind the scenes, “lawyers for Purdue and its owners have been quietly negotiating with Donald Trump’s Justice Department to resolve all the various federal investigations in an overarching settlement, which would likely involve a fine but no charges against individual executives.”
The author, Patrick Radden Keefe, writes that “multiple lawyers” have told him that “members of the Trump administration have been pushing hard to finalize the deal before Election Day. The administration will likely present such a settlement as a major victory against Big Pharma—and as another ‘promise kept’ to Trump’s base.”
However, critics argue that such a settlement will allow the Sacklers to effectively bank billions of dollars made by inappropriately pushing OxyContin into communities for decades.
A lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has described OxyContin as the “taproot” of the opioid epidemic, alleges that the Sacklers siphoned money out of Purdue and transferred it offshore.
The New Yorker reports that when the drug maker filed for bankruptcy, it had cash and assets of just $1 billion; however, in a deposition, one of the company’s own experts testified that the Sacklers had extracted as much as $13 billion from Purdue.
A total of 47 states are suing the drug maker; 29 have named members of the Sackler family as defendants. In filings made as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the states said Purdue contributed to a public-health crisis that has claimed the lives of roughly 450,000 people since 1999, and cited more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. tied directly to prescription opioids between 1999 and 2016.
A representative for the Sackler family told The New Yorker, “Our hearts go out to those affected by drug abuse and addiction. The rise in opioid-related deaths is driven overwhelmingly by heroin and illicit fentanyl smuggled by drug traffickers into the U.S. from China and Mexico.”
They said documents will show “the Sackler family acted ethically and responsibly at all times.”