Purdue Pharma responsible for driving opioid epidemic; Sacklers to blame


Juan Diaz / Hilltop Views

Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016 according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This was more than any previous year on record.

The day this article is published 130 Americans will die of an opioid overdose. Around 400,000 Americans overdosed on opioids from 1999 to 2017. The opioid crisis is the worst drug epidemic the country has witnessed. 

The opioid crisis began around 1999 when overdose deaths related to prescribed opioids began to rise following an increase of prescriptions to opioids. Most prescribed opioid pills were OxyContin which was marketed as a nonaddictive painkiller even with the knowledge that it was highly addictive and widely abused. 

Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy shortly after settling a lawsuit with the state of Oklahoma totaling $270 million on Sept. 15. As the first of 2,600 federal and state lawsuits against Purdue, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed the suit seeking $20 billion dollars for Purdue’s role in the opioid epidemic. 

With the Oklahoma suit as a precedent, Purdue has asked for a settlement plan for all 2,600 lawsuits, and the central piece of this plan is restructuring the company through bankruptcy. However, I see the bankruptcy claim as an intentional roadblock to prosecuting Purdue. Since states will now have to contest the bankruptcy claim in court and argue the original case, many will choose the settlement to avoid legal costs. Many of the states and counties suing Purdue have put a lot of their resources towards fighting the crisis created by Purdue. Given Purdue’s insidious past, I have trouble believing the bankruptcy claim and settlement were well-intentioned. 

The company plans to restructure what is known as a public benefit trust where the profits of the company would go to addiction research and treatment. However, this would still allow the problem to continue as the company would continue to sell OxyContin to generate these profits. The settlement also promises $3 billion to plaintiffs over seven years.

24 states and thousands of counties have accepted the settlement deal with Purdue, but some, such as New York, intend to contest the bankruptcy claim in court. 

I believe the states challenging the bankruptcy claim are taking the right course of action against a company that has profited from the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.  According to the state of New York, the Sackler family, the founders of Purdue, used undisclosed wire transfers to move money from Purdue to shell corporations and private accounts over the past 20 years. I have no reason to believe the Sacklers would stop this practice, and I have a hard time trusting a family that has destroyed thousands of communities across the country. 

Some states are trying to prosecute low-level drug dealers for murder when their buyers overdosed. Why are these same states allowing Purdue and the Sackler family to get away with the same crime? All architects of this crisis should be punished as much as the law allows no matter how much money it takes. States should dispute the bankruptcy claim because The Sackler family can not be allowed to walk free if we wish to call America a just society.