By GEOFF MULVIHILL and JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Their advocacy helped put Purdue Pharma out of business and forces the family that has controlled the company for generations to relinquish ownership and provide billions of dollars to communities to fight opioid addiction.
But what victims of opioid abuse and those who have lost loved ones in America’s long battle with drug addiction have wanted most is a chance to face members of the Sackler family, to whom they blame for triggering a crisis that has claimed the lives of some 500,000 people in the past. two decades.
Thursday, some of them will finally have their chance.
In a hearing that will be virtual but sure to be emotional, about two dozen people whose lives and families have been devastated by opioid abuse will make statements in US bankruptcy court with some members of the Sackler family listening. They likely talk about the pain of losing children after years of trying to get them adequate treatment, their own journey through addiction, and caring for babies born in withdrawal and screaming in pain.
The forum is an unconventional hearing for White Plains, New York, courtroom of Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain, who on Wednesday gave tentative approval to key elements of a plan to settle thousands of lawsuits against the company .
“No one can underestimate how historic (Thursday’s) session will be,” Judge Arik Preis, an attorney representing Purdue creditors, told Judge Wednesday.
The settlement agreement is believed to be worth at least $10 billion over time. He calls on members of the Sackler family to contribute $5.5 billion to $6 billion over 17 years to address the opioid crisis. That’s an increase of more than $1 billion from a previous version that was thrown out by another appeals judge. Most of the money would be used to fight the crisis, but $750 million would go directly to victims or their survivors.
The comprehensive settlement, which still requires actions from multiple courts to take effect, provides more than $150 million to Native American tribes and more than $100 million for medical monitoring and payments for children born with opioid withdrawal.
As the settlement was reached with a mediator, the terms went beyond money. The plan also calls on family members to relinquish ownership of the business so it can become a new entity whose profits will be dedicated to stemming the outbreak. In exchange, members of the Sackler family would be protected from civil lawsuits over opioids.
The family also agreed not to oppose any effort to remove the Sackler name from the cultural and educational institutions they supported and to make public a larger cache of company documents.
The mediator, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley Chapman, also recommended that the virtual hearing be attended by at least two members of the Sackler family.
The hearing is expected to last two hours. Drain said members of the Sackler family and others will not have the opportunity to respond to statements from the group of victims selected to speak by lawyers for creditors in the case. Some of the victims will approach the Sacklers from a law firm in New York; others will be at home in communities across the United States
Two members of the Sackler family appeared on the pre-hearing appeal: Theresa Sackler, wife of the late Mortimer D. Sackler, one of three brothers who in the 1950s bought the company that became Purdue Pharmaceuticals; and David Sackler, grandson of another of the brothers, Raymond Sackler.
The hearing is perhaps the closest thing to a trial for members of the Sackler family, who victims say helped start and prolong the outbreak through the marketing of their signature painkiller OxyContin. It’s a crisis that has become deadlier in recent years, largely due to deaths from illicit forms of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.
This is not the first time family members have appeared in public places devoted to Purdue’s role in the opioid crisis. Two testified before a congressional subcommittee in 2020 and some were part of a virtual Purdue bankruptcy hearing last year.
Members of the Sackler family expressed regret for the crisis, but they never offered an unequivocal apology.
Last week they released a statement saying in part: “While the families acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription drug that continues to help people with chronic pain, has become unexpectedly part of an opioid crisis that has caused heartbreak and loss to far too many families and communities.
Purdue Pharma began selling OxyContin, a pioneering extended-release prescription painkiller, in 1996. At the same time, Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies were funding efforts to get doctors and other prescribers to think differently about opioids — suggesting that be used for certain pain conditions. for which potent drugs were previously considered prohibited.
Over the decades there have been waves of fatal overdoses – first associated with prescription drugs, then, as prescriptions became harder to get and some drugs became harder to handle for a quick high, from heroin. More recently, fentanyl and similar drugs have become the biggest killers.
Purdue has twice pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but no member of the Sackler family has been charged with any crimes. There is no indication that such charges are imminent, although seven US senators last month asked the Justice Department to consider charges.
Other drugmakers, distributors, marketers and pharmacies involved in the opioid industry have faced similar lawsuits from state and local governments, Native American tribes and other entities.
Last month, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and wholesalers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson announced they were finalizing settlements worth a combined $26 billion. As in the proposed Purdue settlement, most of that money is to be used to fight the crisis.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
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