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The manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, agreed to settle federal criminal charges by pleading guilty and agreeing to a multi-billion dollar fine regarding its handling of what became the opioid crisis.

As the generational scars of the opioid crises settle deeply into communities throughout the US, state and federal agencies look for financial support and the means to help victims and families recover from their losses.  As one of the major players in the creation of the opioid crises, Purdue Pharma is the focus of lawsuits across the country for its role in peddling the addictive drugs to poorly informed physicians who then freely prescribed them to unsuspecting patients.

According to The New York Times, over 450,000 people have died in the US along since 1999 due to opioid use.  In many cases, patients were prescribed powerful opioids by their physician when lesser drugs would have worked as well or better.  Given delay in addiction treatment programs and conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid overdose deaths have again increased following a slight decline in 2018.

Purdue Pharma, majority owned by members of the Sackler family, has been involved in litigation over its opioid manufacturing and marketing practices since the early 2000’s. Plaintiff’s note members of the Sackler family cycled through the Board of the Directors of the company before exiting as the opioid crises—and the profile of the company—worsened. Evidence suggests the company was well aware of the addictive properties of OxyContin and mounted extensive Pharma sales campaigns to increase physician buy-in of the drug.  It worked.

In October 2020, Purdue agreed to settle with the federal government for a sum of $8.3 billion to end the investigation. In November, Purdue Pharma, not individual members of the Sackler family, pled guilty to three criminal charges.  The only exposure to the Sackler family from the plea deal and settlement is payment of $225 million.

The settlement offers cold comfort down the line.  Purdue Pharma filed for protection in bankruptcy court and the multi-billion settlement may not amount to much at the end of the day, despite the damage, destruction, and death wrought by a company and a family described by Congressman John Sarbanes as “morally bankrupt.”

In testimony about the opioid crises in mid-December 2020, Sackler family members testified to their remorse for parents who lost their children as a result of opioids. Yet, the family stopped well short of taking any responsibility for their campaign to entrench OxyContin in homes across America.  Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee noted, “I’m not sure that I’m aware of any family in America that’s more evil than yours.”

The appearance before Congress was a brief comeuppance and the relatively insignificant money fine to the Sackler family will also be of short duration.  It is probable the Sackler family will continue to laugh all the way to the bank despite the broken health of so many American families.

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