Many believe the Sackler family is getting off the hook in the opioid litigation.
Even though the Sacklers will pay billions of dollars to settle the opioid litigation primarily focused on their role in Purdue’s manufacturing of the powerful opioid OxyContin, experts say that when all is said and done, they will still be billionaires.
Purdue Pharma aggressively and deceptively marketed OxyContin beginning in 1996. Since that time, painkillers have been linked with more than 200,000 overdose fatalities. Other opioids have been responsible for at least another 200,000 cases of addiction-related fatalities.
Despite settling, the family will still be worth between $1 billion and $2 billion, according to industry experts. And that number has been derived only from traceable money. The Sacklers have also allegedly been trying to hide their funds in overseas investments.
“If [the Sacklers] have the perception – and it’s the correct perception – that ‘people like us just don’t go to jail, we just don’t, so the worst that’s going to happen is you take some reputational stings and you’ll have to write a check,’ that seems like a recipe for nurturing criminality,” Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, said.
Some lawmakers have suggested the state or federal agencies should investigate the Sacklers personally and push for criminal charges beyond the litigation they already face. The current lawsuits all constitute civil matters. This is the second time lawmakers are asking to do so, too.
A federal investigation that took place in the mid-2000s called for the prosecution of members of the Sackler family due to their connection with deceptively marketing OxyContin. However, at the time, only three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges related to “misbranding.” They had to pay out big fines but did not go to prison. Many believe they should have and, now that the opportunity is once again presenting itself, it would be foolish to allow the family to go unscathed a second time around.
“You can go to prison for accidentally killing one person with your car. That’s the minimum standard,” Rick Claypool, a research director at Public Citizen, said, adding, “The idea that you can run a company and cause societal-level devastation and walk away from that relatively unscathed is mind-boggling.”
From the 1990s on, Purdue was run in large part by the descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, the brothers who founded the company. And, these members have been blamed for contributing significantly to the opioid crisis. The lawsuits against them include evidence pertaining to what the leaders knew and when they knew it.
All the way back in 2001, for example, after 59 deaths from OxyContin were reported in one state alone, Richard Sackler responded in an email, “This is not too bad. It could have been far worse.” [Editor’s note: A representative for the family stated that Dr. Sackler was referring to the totality of a New York Times article in which the deaths were reported, not the deaths themselves. In fact, the copy of Dr. Sackler’s email does not mention death.] He also wrote that same month, “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” He purposely diverted the blame from the family to those who became addicted to the product they were selling.
David Sackler, who was on Purdue’s board of directors, said in an interview this year, “Facts will show we didn’t cause the crisis.” Well, it looks like that is simply not the case.