The Sackler Family Asks for Sweeping Immunity in Opioid Litigation

A federal bankruptcy judge is likely to approve Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy plan, but signaled that he would not approve the Sackler family’s sweeping immunity demand as written.

As part of the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case, the Sackler family has asked for extensive immunity from civil lawsuits linked to their activities involving the drug giant. The bankruptcy judge tasked with ruling on the case, Judge Robert Drain, implied the release was much too broad and would cover potential misconduct unrelated to OxyContin sales or opioids.

In addition to their own immunity, the Sacklers demanded immunity for hundreds of associates and entities, including lobbyists and drugmakers. The Sacklers have agreed to pay about $4.3 billion and give up ownership of the bankrupt company in exchange for the release.

A Purdue Pharma owner and former board member, David Sackler, denied any wrongdoing and indicated the family would only make the $4.3 billion payment if the family and their named associates received “global peace” from liability. Immunity for the Sacklers and their associates would likely mean the public would never know the role they played in the opioid crisis and they would walk away from the situation with much of their personal wealth intact.

Purdue Pharma’s aggressive and illegal marketing of OxyContin, beginning in the late 1990s, is often cited as a major catalyst for the opioid epidemic which has killed more than 500,000 people in the U.S. The Sackler family’s privately owned foreign drug companies are expected to continue making and marketing opioid products. They are included in the immunity demand.

Purdue Pharma has twice pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to its opioid practices. The Sacklers also paid $225 million in a 2020 settlement with the Department of Justice over allegations that they had fraudulently transferred their wealth in a scheme to “hinder future creditors.”

The proposed bankruptcy settlement as a whole is worth $10 billion, about $5.5 billion of which would go to creditors. However, nine state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department argue individuals should be able to sue the Sackler family and oppose the settlement based on the proposed immunity agreement. Supporters of the agreement say it would allow billions of dollars over the next decade to aid addiction treatment and health care programs.

Additional Reading

Judge Pushes Back On Protections For The Sacklers In The Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy, NPR (August 26, 2021)

Purdue Pharma Says Its Bankruptcy Deal Is Fairest to Creditors, Bloomberg (August 25, 2021)

The Sacklers Want Immunity From The Opioid Crisis For a Long List Of Their Associates, NPR (August 20, 2021)

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