Without Broad Legal Immunity, the Sacklers Threaten to Withdraw from the Opioid Settlement.
David Sackler stated in a rare court appearance that he and his family would withdraw their agreement to pay $4.5 billion unless they are insulated from Purdue Pharma-related lawsuits.
A scion of the Sackler family, the billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma, vowed in court on Tuesday that the family would withdraw from a $4.5 billion pledge to assist communities across the country devastated by the opioid epidemic unless a judge grants the family immunity from all current and future civil claims relating to the company.
Without that broad release of liability, David Sackler, 41, a former board member and grandson of one of the company's founders, said his family would no longer support the deal that the parties painstakingly negotiated over two years to resolve thousands of opioid lawsuits brought by states, cities, tribes, and other plaintiffs.
“We require a release that is sufficient to accomplish our objectives, and if the release falls short of that standard, we will not support it,” Mr. Sackler declared on the fourth day of fractious testimony in the confirmation hearing for Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy plan, whose deceptive marketing of the prescription painkiller OxyContin is widely blamed for sparking the opioid epidemic.
Rather than that, he stated that he anticipated the Sacklers would continue to litigate all claims "to their conclusion" – a process that would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for everyone concerned.
The Sacklers' $4.5 billion offer is the settlement plan's cornerstone, and without it, the accord is nearly certain to fail. The funds will be disbursed over nine or 10 years to begin covering the exceptional costs of an addiction crisis that has resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 Americans since the late 1990s. Purdue would be reformed into a new public benefit corporation, with practically all revenues going to the settlement, and the Sacklers would renounce any involvement.
They will, however, be permitted to retain ownership of their enormous worldwide pharmaceutical firms, which will let them to continue manufacturing and marketing opioids for up to seven years, or until the companies are sold, in order to fund the legal costs.
Another distinguishing feature would be a public repository for more than 30 million documents from Purdue and the Sacklers "so that academics and scholars and families of victims and everyone can look at those documents and understand what can happen when there is a fraud and how intense and long that fraud can last," according to Jayne Conroy, a lawyer who began pursuing Purdue in 2002 and testified.
At the conclusion of these proceedings, a federal bankruptcy court was anticipated to confirm the proposal, particularly after a majority of states that had previously opposed the arrangement voiced support for it last month. However, concerns to the Sacklers' legal protection have become a central focus of most of the testimony. The terms of the Sacklers' liability releases are so extensive that Judge Robert Drain stated last week that he had "some reservations about the extent."
Mr. Sackler appeared via video before Judge Drain in White Plains, New York. It is believed to be the first time a member of the family has been in open court on an OxyContin-related topic, though several Sacklers have given depositions in previous cases.
He stated that the family hoped that the liability shield would protect him, other members of his large family, and approximately 1,000 additional individuals, including contractors and consultants, from litigation unrelated to opioids.
That means they would be permanently immune from any current or future lawsuits globally involving not only Purdue's opioids, but also other treatments the business makes, such as those used to treat addiction reversal, high cholesterol, and even constipation caused by prescription opiate use.
Purdue and the actions of Sackler family members, who took a significant interest in marketing the company's prescription opioids as nonaddictive as hands-on board members, have been largely blamed for the opioid epidemic.
The corporation pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges twice, most recently in 2021, with the Sacklers personally paying associated civil fines.
Mr. Sackler refused to be pushed down during his court appearance by lawyers seeking to elicit an admission of family guilt for the ongoing catastrophe, which saw a record-breaking number of overdose fatalities last year during the pandemic. He continued to adamantly defend the company's opioid products as FDA-approved painkillers.
Mr. Sackler stated that the balance between "risk and societal benefit is, in my opinion, unquestionable." “As a result, I squirm at the concept that people dying is the only metric for the effectiveness of these medications.”
However, during cross-examination, Mr. Sackler stated, "I believe that because the product we created that has aided millions of individuals has also been linked to the opioid epidemic, we have a moral obligation to assist, which is what this settlement is aimed to achieve."
At least 2,700 lawsuits and hundreds of thousands of claims against Purdue have been filed against the company since 2014, when the opioid epidemic peaked. Plaintiffs represent a diverse group of entities, including 48 states, local governments, tribes, hospitals, individuals, and monitors of infants born with withdrawal symptoms from opioids, all of whom have been destroyed and monetarily impoverished by opioids.
Individual Sacklers have been named in an increasing number of the incidents in recent years.
Purdue filed for bankruptcy restructuring nearly two years ago, putting an automatic stay on those litigation. However, the Sacklers did not declare bankruptcy, despite their insistence that they would benefit as well from the liability releases expected to be granted to their company.
The issue of Sackler and other third-party releases is at the center of the opposition to the bankruptcy plan being pursued by nine states, including Maryland, Washington, and Connecticut. The District of Columbia, the federal Justice Department, and the United States Trustee, a Justice Department institution that monitors bankruptcy cases, have all joined the complaints, as have several Canadian local governments and First Nations.
According to current law in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where Judge Drain sits, the judge has the authority to award releases to the Sacklers and other non-bankrupt third parties. However, the topic remains mostly unresolved.
It is prohibited in other federal circuits. Members of Congress have raised the issue, which may well result in an appeal by the objectors if Judge Drain approves the scheme. Thus far, objecting lawyers' hammering questions have been intended not only to create doubts about the proposal, but also to lay the groundwork for such appeals.