oxycontin, opioids
"WE DO NOT STOCK OXYCONTIN" sign. Photo credit: Redfishingboat (Mick O) / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A federal court on Tuesday ruled that a settlement between Purdue Pharma, its billionaire owners, state and local governments, and thousands of Americans can proceed.

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A federal court on Tuesday ruled that a settlement between Purdue Pharma, its billionaire owners, state and local governments, and thousands of Americans can proceed. That is the “news” that came out of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York yesterday. But, when you dig a little deeper, you find a story that epitomizes American capitalism.

If you are unfamiliar with the name, Purdue Pharma is a company that made many things. First, it made OxyContin, the drug at the root of the opioid crisis that has killed tens of thousands of Americans. Then it made regulators, doctors, and patients believe that OxyContin was safe to use even though the company knew it wasn’t. Then it made the crisis it created much worse by relentlessly pushing doctors to prescribe the drug. In the process, it made its owners, the Sackler family, billions of dollars. And, most importantly, it made countless people suffer in pursuit of profits.

Finally, after thousands had died and local communities and states had spent billions of dollars on dealing with the effects of the opioid crisis, everybody sued Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers.

Ultimately, many of these lawsuits were combined, the company declared bankruptcy, its billionaire owners did not, and a settlement was reached. Under the agreement, the company would be reformed and its profits would go toward fighting the opioid epidemic it triggered, the Sacklers would kick in a few billion dollars and keep a few billion more in exchange for escaping any other financial accountability, and, finally, the victims and their families, as well as the communities who had footed the bill to pay for the crisis, would get some money.

In 2021, a judge in New York put that agreement on hold. She ruled that the bankruptcy court judges who approved that deal did not have the authority to do so because the settlement offered bankruptcy protections for the Sacklers, even though they had not filed for bankruptcy.

It is this decision that was overturned yesterday.

So, what does it all mean and why is it a perfect example of US capitalism?

Because the Sacklers are not only getting away with killing so many Americans but also with billions of dollars.

None of them is going to jail!

And it’s not as though their company made a product that was later found to be harmful and immediately pulled from the market. Purdue Pharma aggressively marketed it once it was clear to its owners (but not yet regulators) how addictive it was.

Then, when it became clear that Purdue Pharma would be sued, the Sacklers began pulling billions out of the company and stashed it offshore.

The $5.5 billion to $6 billion that family members will have to contribute — over time, no less — is only about half of the money the court estimates the Sacklers made off the suffering of countless Americans. And there is no telling how much cash they actually managed to squirrel away.

How is keeping billions of dollars a punishment for these people? How is that justice?

Yes, victims and their families are getting some money from this settlement — between $3,000 and $42,000 — and many of them desperately need it.

But justice this is not.


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