Sackler family to pay $6bn for role in US opioid crisis

Purdue OxyContin
Purdue, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019 amid thousands of lawsuits, made drugs like OxyContin, and is blamed for fuelling the opioid crisis.

The wealthy Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, is set to pay $6bn (£4.5bn) for its role in America’s opioid epidemic under a new deal.

The sum is nearly $1.7bn more than a previous settlement.

Purdue, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019 amid thousands of lawsuits, made drugs like OxyContin, and is blamed for fuelling the opioid crisis.

Addiction to both legal and illegal opioid painkillers has been a serious, ongoing problem in the US.

The country saw nearly half a million deaths from overdoses between 1999 and 2019, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Biden pledged to make fighting what he called “the opioid epidemic” a top priority.

In 2020, Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges over its marketing of OxyContin, a painkiller it knew was addictive and being widely abused.

Some of the Sackler family have denied wrongdoing.

A previous settlement against them, reached in September 2021, was appealed by eight US states.

As part of the new deal, the family is protected from all current and future civil claims. But the deal does not protect them from potential criminal cases.

The $6bn settlement will largely be used to fund opioid treatment and prevention programmes in various states.

The deal – which is the result of court-ordered mediation that began in January – was welcomed by a number of state attorney generals.

“The Sacklers needed to pay more for the harms they caused,” Washington DC attorney general Karl Racine tweeted on Thursday. Washington will receive more than $31m from the family and Purdue as part of the deal.

In Connecticut – which is receiving $95m – Attorney General William Tong said that “after years of denial, the Sackler family must now directly apologise for the pain they have caused.”

In a statement in the mediator’s report, two branches of the family said they “have acted lawfully in all respects”, adding that OxyContin “unexpectedly became part of the opioid crisis that has brought grief and loss to far too many families and communities”.

The family is now banned from the US opioid industry, and together with Purdue must make public over 30 million documents, including some previously withheld as privileged legal advice.

Purdue must be dissolved or sold by 2024.

The settlement must still be approved by the judge who presided over the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The agreement will also likely see galleries, museums and scholarships drop the Sackler name.

A number have already removed it from exhibition halls with the family’s agreement, including New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Museum and National Portrait Gallery in the UK, and the Louvre in Paris.


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