On Thursday, a week after the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that the Sackler family name would be taken down off seven of its exhibition walls, Purdue Pharma’s proposed bankruptcy settlement was dismissed by a federal judge, preventing the Sackler family from taking advantage of a provision deal with the Department of Justice that would have granted them immunity. The settlement was rejected by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, who determined that bankruptcy judges don’t have the power to grant that kind of legally sanctioned reprieve to people who weren’t declaring bankruptcy for themselves. Purdue Pharma is attempting to settle thousands of lawsuits that allege the company aggressively and destructively marketed OxyContin.
Between 1999 and 2019, according to the CDC, the opioid epidemic directly caused the deaths of nearly 500,000 Americans. Purdue Pharma has been seeking legal resolution to the firestorm of rage directed at the company by pursuing a deal that would allow them to re-configure the corporation as a nonprofit, albeit one that still produced opioids; the organization would also ostensibly donate considerable dividends towards healing some of the damage inflicted by the crisis.
The reckoning the Sacklers and Purdue are currently facing is directly due to the efforts of activist and photographer Nan Goldin and her organization Sackler P.A.I.N., which has been imploring arts institutions to cease their relationships with the family for years.
“Yesterday’s ruling by Judge McMahon is a chance to reverse the Sacklers abuse of our justice system,” Nan Goldin / PAIN said in a statement emailed to Observer. “We hope that this decision will empower the DOJ to pursue charges against the Sacklers. As a creditor in the case and as a member of the Ad-Hoc Committee of Accountability, I vehemently opposed the terms of this egregious settlement and especially the third party releases from the start.”
“The Sacklers held creditors hostage, stating in no uncertain terms that if these releases weren’t granted, they would refuse to pay into the settlement,” Nan Goldin / PAIN’s statement continues. “Their contribution of $4.5 billion may sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the fortune the family made off OxyContin and the billions they siphoned out of Purdue Pharma, leaving it bankrupt.
Reacting to Judge McMahon’s Thursday ruling, Steve Miller, the board chair of Purdue Pharma, told Artnet that her decision will “delay, and perhaps end, the ability of creditors, communities, and individuals to receive billions in value to abate the opioid crisis.”
This post has been updated with a response from Nan Goldin / PAIN.