Big Pharma Drug War Economy Health Jessica Corbett

‘Catastrophic Injustice’: Judge OKs Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Plan Shielding Sacklers

"The greed of some Sacklers fueled an opioid epidemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans," said Rick Claypool of Public Citizen.
Oxycodone pill

By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams

In a bench ruling delivered over several hours on Wednesday, a U.S. judge approved a Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan widely criticized for giving the Sackler family immunity from civil lawsuits related to the company’s drug OxyContin and and profiteering that critics say escalated the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“The deal grants ‘releases’ from liability for harm caused by OxyContin and other opioids to the Sacklers, hundreds of their associates, as well as their remaining empire of companies and trusts,” NPR explained.

In a statement condemning the development, Rick Claypool, a research director for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said that “allowing the billionaires at the root of the opioid crisis to walk free while thousands of its victims are in prison is a catastrophic injustice.”

“Purdue Pharma is the reason the Sackler family are billionaires, and after today’s settlement they will remain billionaires,” Claypool continued. “The greed of some Sacklers fueled an opioid epidemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans, gripped millions in the claws of addiction, devastated communities across the country, and cost over $2.5 trillion.”

The researcher noted that “meanwhile, on any given day, 450,000 incarcerated people are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.”

drug offenses

“The Biden administration has the authority to pursue leniency for nonviolent drug offenders, whose unnecessary and cruel incarceration must be replaced with support to help communities heal the raw wounds the opioid epidemic left behind,” Claypool said.

“The administration also has the authority to continue the last administration’s criminal investigation and indict any member of the Sackler family who committed crimes while pursuing opioid profits,” he added. “On both fronts, the administration should exercise its authority without delay.”

As Reuters detailed, the bankruptcy plan, valued at more than $10 billion, will “dissolve the drugmaker and shift assets to a new company owned by a trust rather than the Sackler family members.”

Reuters continued:

The Sacklers have denied allegations, raised in lawsuits and elsewhere, that they bear responsibility for the U.S. opioid epidemic. They have said they acted ethically and lawfully while serving on Purdue’s board.

The Purdue bankruptcy plan includes a $4.5 billion contribution from Sackler family members. The contribution is in the form of cash that would be paid over roughly a decade and also includes $175 million in value from relinquishing control of charitable institutions.

Judge Robert Drain of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, “provisionally approved the plan, saying he wanted modest adjustments,” according to The New York Times.

Journalists live-tweeting the orally delivered ruling reported that Drain declared that “this is not the Sacklers’ plan,” despite the civil immunity from opioid cases being a key goal of family members.

Adam Levitin, a Georgetown Law professor specializing in bankruptcy, pushed back against Drain’s criticism of reporters, academics, and lawmakers and argued that the plan aligns with what the Sacklers wanted.

“Drain’s shifting the goal posts and setting up a strawman,” he said. “No one informed is claiming that the Sacklers are getting criminal immunity. They’re just keeping a multi-billion dollar fortune despite having wrought terrible harm to millions of people.”

Brian Mann of NPR noted that although Drain said the plan wasn’t defined by the Sacklers, he also acknowledged “at length that members of the family placed their wealth (which [the judge] estimates at $11 billion) offshore where there is ‘a substantial issue of collectability.'”

“It is incredibly frustrating that people can send their money offshore,” said Drain. The judge also highlighted the lack of apology from the Sackler family, adding that “a forced apology is not really an apology, so we will have to live without one.”

Journalist Gerald Posner, author of the book “PHARMA,” shared various lines of the bench ruling, including Drain’s point that prosecutors could pursue criminal claims against the Sacklers.

Though the Sacklers have never been charged and maintain their position that the family has no responsibility for the opioid crisis, NPR noted last week that “Purdue Pharma has pleaded guilty twice to criminal wrongdoing in its marketing of OxyContin, first in 2007 and again last year.”

The outlet also reported Tuesday on Purdue Pharma’s “stealth campaign” aimed at preventing a potential appeal of the bankruptcy settlement by the U.S. Justice Department.

According to Reuters, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is also “preparing to appeal if necessary.”


  1. Business as usual. It was to be expected. Justice in America is bought not given. Those rich and powerful are above the law because they are the law. Given the fact that things always go this way…every single time, one would think that the pattern would be recognized and people would adjust their attitudes accordingly. One would think….

  2. “The eagle suffers little birds to sing,
    And is not careful what they mean thereby,
    Knowing that with the shadow of his wings
    He can at pleasure stint their melody:
    Even so mayest thou the giddy men of Rome.”

    William Shakespeare
    1592 Tamora to Saturninus.Titus Andronicus, act 4, sc.4, l.83-6

    “The American People” are irrelevant

  3. The Sackler Judicial Outcome, thus far, harkens back to the Obama/ Eric Holder
    era of injustice which gave Wall Street Bankers ” Get out of Jail Free Pass’s ”
    while their victims, thousands of homeowners, became homeless.
    This is what happens when Empires (our corporate empire) collapse, usually
    accompanied by wide spread corruption, beaconed by a barrage of new fascist
    styled phony Judicial rules implemented specifically for the purpose of destroying
    the peoples protections from tyranny.

    Our founders put in place 23 powerful regulations on corporate power as means
    of preventing any further corporate attacks on the peoples economy or
    governments. Included were ” No standing army.” ” No monopoly’s…. and any
    corporation that fails to serve the people (an absolute requirement of all )
    can be promptly dissolved by a simple majority vote of the people… and so on.

    Neither corporate sponsored Party will save us from ecocide or threat of
    nuclear armageddon. They are both complicit.
    We can only save ourselves by relentlessly taking to the streets, calling out
    their crimes and supporting and voting only for candidates that refuse
    corporate bribery.
    Rick Schaffer

  4. ‘Murica . . . gotta love it. Powerful, rich folks get away with all kinds of things: protecting Wall Street when it is caught red handed destroying the economy, avoiding prosecution after trying o overturn election results, polluting the environment for decades , starting wars for fictitious reasons . . . take your pick.

    The Corporate Capture of our entire governing system will be the end of the Republic.

    Welcome to the Global Plantation.

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