Home / Technology / Judge grants mega-rich Sackler family reprieve from legal costs of opioid crisis

Judge grants mega-rich Sackler family reprieve from legal costs of opioid crisis

Protestors hold up a banner while surrounded by empty prescription bottles.
Enlarge / PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, Conn. – 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019, outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement.

OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and its billionaire owners, the Sacklers, on Friday got a temporary reprieve from lingering court battles over their alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis. In exchange, they may have to be more forthcoming about what happened to all the OxyContin money.

US bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain temporarily halted state lawsuits against Purdue as well as the Sacklers—though only Purdue has filed for bankruptcy protections. In pausing the states’ cases, Judge Drain cited Purdue’s mounting legal expenses, which he noted is money that could otherwise go toward addressing the opioid crisis and its victims, according to The New York Times.

Purdue had sought a 180-day injunction on the state’s cases, but Judge Drain’s pause only lasts until November 6. In that shorter timeframe, he pushed the parties to try to talk out their differences. Those differences primarily hinge on whether the Sacklers are offering enough of their allegedly ill-gotten fortune to address the opioid crisis in thousands of lawsuits on the matter.

Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September as part of a tentative deal to settle more than 2,000 of them, which were mostly brought by state and local governments. According to Purdue’s lawyers, the offered deal would be worth a total of $10 billion to $12 billion over time. Included in those figures is at least $3 billion from the Sacklers directly.

While hundreds of municipal governments and some states have agreed to the deal, about two dozen states and other plaintiffs are opposed. They argue that the Sacklers should pony up more of their fortune—and faster.

Billions

Purdue is estimated to have made more than $35 billion from OxyContin sales, and the Sacklers reportedly siphoned off as much as $13 billion of that into their own pockets.

Last month, New York’s attorney general’s office announced that it had tracked some of the Sacklers’ wire transfers, which moved at least $1 billion of Purdue earnings into overseas accounts and obscure real estate entities.

To sweeten talks during the legal hiatus, Purdue and the Sacklers said it would share more financial information with the states. They also said they would not hide assets.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, the Mortimer D. Sackler and Raymond Sackler families issued a joint statement saying that they are “hopeful this process will enable all parties to reach a resolution.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who has opposed the settlement deal, said in a statement that “We are disappointed” that the judge halted the cases, “but pleased that it is limited in time to less than 30 days. We will use this time to ensure that we get access to the Sacklers’ financial information.”

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