Critics Rage as Purdue Pharma Settlement Won’t Send Sacklers to Jail

Protesters staging a die-in outside the courthouse. Members of P.A.I.N. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

After countless litigations and an investigation spanning over 15 years, the Justice Department said Wednesday it had reached a global civil and criminal settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owner, the Sackler family, over their roles in fueling America’s opioid epidemic over the past two decades. The still-raging epidemic has caused over 200,000 overdose deaths and millions of addictions.

The settlement includes three felony guilty pleas, a $3.54 billion criminal fine, a separate $2 billion criminal forfeiture and $2.8 billion in civil liability damages. However, none of Purdue Pharma’s executives or members of the Sackler family will serve prison time.

And more likely than not the Sacklers will not pay the $8.3 billion fine in full. For now, Purdue only needs to pay $225 million as part the $2 billion criminal forfeiture. The larger criminal fine will be collected through the company’s bankruptcy restructuring, which involves a number of other creditors.

“We reached today’s agreement in order to facilitate a global resolution that directs substantial funding to communities in need, rather than to years of legal proceedings,” members of the Sackler family who served on Purdue’s board said in a statement on Tuesday. “This proposed resolution includes relinquishing our ownership of Purdue and has been valued at $10-$12 billion—more than double all Purdue profits the Sackler family retained since the introduction of OxyContin.”

Yet, the internet was infuriated over the DOJ’s decision to let the Sacklers walk free.

“Sacklers to pay a piddling $225 million. All Sackler family members in the company should spend the rest of their lives in prison,” tweeted author and political commentator Tony Schwartz.

“If the Sacklers walk, then it’s a joke,” tweeted former NBA star Rex Chapman, who was an Oxycontin addict. “They’re responsible for hundreds of American deaths. Not to mention all of the addiction.”

The deal will be subject to the approval by the federal bankruptcy judge Robert Drain, who oversees Purdue Pharma’s dissolution. If finalized, the settlement could put an end to a long string of local and state lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers.

Justice Department officials said the deal doesn’t preclude future criminal prosecutions of individuals involved in Purdue’s opioid marketing practices, as separate investigations are ongoing.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr last week, 25 state attorneys general urged the DOJ to “avoid having special ties” to Purdue. In a separate letter to Barr last week, nearly three dozen Democratic members of Congress insisted that any settlement result in prison time for company owners and executives.

“Purdue and the Sackler family perpetrated one of the most egregious criminal acts in American history,” Democratic lawmakers wrote.

Since 2004, Purdue has faced more than 2,500 lawsuits from governments, individuals and other entities related to the opioid crisis. In 2007, the company pleaded guilty in a lawsuit with the DOJ and agreed to pay $600 million in damages, the highest amount in pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history.

Last September, Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. as part of a settlement with several government plaintiffs. The drugmaker’s chairman Steve Miller said at the time that the settlement would “avoid wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and years on protracted litigation” and instead “provide billions of dollars and critical resources to communities across the country trying to cope with the opioid crisis.”

However, a December 2019 audit by consulting firm AlixPartners, hired by Purdue to advise on its Chapter 11 restructuring, found that the Sacklers had withdrawn $10.7 billion from Purdue since the company began receive legal scrutiny.


This story has been updated with the Sackler family’s statement. 

Critics Rage as Purdue Pharma Settlement Won’t Send Sacklers to Jail