Attorneys General nationwide blasted an $8.3 billion settlement between the Trump Justice Department and Purdue Pharma over criminal and civil investigations into OxyContin, which drove an opioid epidemic that has killed 450,000 Americans.
Announced on October 21, 2020, the controversial settlement let the nefarious Sackler family, which owns Purdue and falsely marketed the painkiller, to avoid prison – for now. It allows future criminal charges against the Sacklers.
The billionaire Sackler family withdrew more than $12.2 billion from the company since the mid-1990s. Roughly $10.7 billion of that sum was pulled since the start of 2008, after several Purdue executives had already pleaded guilty to misleading regulators and consumers about the drug’s risks.
The $8 billion figure is largely symbolic, because Purdue has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2019, and now the federal government is just another creditor.
The company still faces thousands of mass tort lawsuits filed by states, tribes, cities and counties to hold the opioid maker accountable. The settlement could set the path for a resolution of the cases.
Highlights of the settlement
Purdue paid doctors through its doctor speaker program and an electronic health records company to drive up prescriptions for OxyContin.
For that, the company pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to three felony counts for defrauding the US and violating the anti-kickback statute from 2009 to 2017 in what the Justice Department said was “the largest penalties ever levied against a pharmaceutical manufacturer.”
The $8.3 billion global settlement includes a criminal fine of $3.544 billion, criminal forfeiture of $2 billion and a civil settlement of $2.8 billion.
Purdue wanted to settle its federal legal troubles under a Trump administration, which it sensed would cut a better deal than a new Biden administration.
Members of the Sackler family will pay only $225 million in civil penalties, which is a tiny percentage of the infamous family’s billions.
The family members — including Richard Sackler, David Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Kathe Sackler, and Jonathan Sackler (now dead) — in 2012 approved a new marketing plan called “Evolve to Excellence” in which “Purdue sales representatives intensified their marketing of OxyContin to extreme, high-volume prescribers who were already writing ’25 times as many OxyContin scripts’ as their peers,” the Justice Department said.
State attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina, among others, attacked the settlement because it does little to hold the Sackler family to account.
- “DOJ failed,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “Justice, in this case, requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election. I am not done with Purdue and the Sacklers, and I will never sell out the families who have been calling for justice for so long.”
- North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said he opposes the settlement because it “does not force the Sacklers to take meaningful responsibility for their actions. A real agreement to resolve these cases would force the Sacklers to pay more and would provide funding to help pay for the treatment and programs people need to get well.”
- New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote, “Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. Instead, it allows billionaires to keep their billions without any accounting for how much they really made.”
She continued, “From the beginning, we’ve aimed to unearth how much the Sacklers actually profited and how much they continue to hide away. While no amount of money can ever compensate for the pain that so many now know, we will continue to litigate our case through the courts to secure every cent we can to limit future opioid addictions. We are committed to holding the Sacklers and others responsible for the role they played in fueling the opioid crisis.”
- In a letter sent last week to Attorney General William Barr, 25 state attorneys general urged the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company” that “caused a national crisis.”
- Nearly three dozen Democratic members of Congress also sent a letter to Barr last week insisting any resolution of Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis should result in prison time for company owners and executives. “Purdue and the Sackler family perpetrated one of the most egregious criminal acts in American history,” lawmakers argued in the letter, calling for more aggressive prosecutions.
Judge Robert Drain, the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing Purdue Pharma’s dissolution, must approve the settlement.