Update: A bankruptcy judge on Nov. 18 over the objection of state attorneys general approved Purdue Pharma’s settlement with the DOJ resolving investigations into the OxyContin maker’s role in the opioid epidemic.
After causing a worldwide financial crisis in 2008, the well-heeled Wall Street executives who were responsible went to Florida and the Bahamas.
Not to jail.
The failure of the administration of former President Barack Obama to prosecute the financial titans whose greed triggered the worst economic collapse in a hundred years shook the faith of Americans in the U.S. justice system, contributing to the cynical attitude that justice is for penny ante car thieves but not the rich and powerful.
Is history about to repeat itself?
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a “global resolution of its criminal and civil investigations” into Purdue Pharma, LP, which spurred an opioid epidemic that wrought utter devastation for years throughout the U.S. The $8.3 billion plea deal must be approved by the bankruptcy court.
The DOJ settlement states that it does not release from criminal liability the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, or company executives -but the “global resolution” also doesn’t impose criminal liability.
The Sackler family reportedly earned more than $10.7 billion in profits through the sale of Purdue’s addictive opioid painkiller, OxyContin. The company rewarded physicians for oversubscribing the drug, which is blamed for the deaths of an estimated 450,000 Americans since 1999.
The epicenter of the epidemic was West Virginia, where two pharmacies in small towns four blocks apart sold more than 10 million opioid pills from 2006 and 2016, despite having combined populations of less than 3,500 people.
While Americans became addicted and died, the Sacklers became noted philanthropists in the U.S. and United Kingdom, contributing “generously” to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Tate and Victoria and Albert Museum. They contend they did nothing wrong.
The DOJ says the settlement is the largest penalty ever levied against a pharmaceutical manufacturer. However, Reuters says the settlement, if approved, will let Purdue sidestep paying billions in penalties because much of the debt will be reduced to cents on the dollar in bankruptcy court.
The settlement calls for the Sackler family to pay $225 million in civil penalties and to relinquish ownership in Purdue Pharma, which will be reconfigured in bankruptcy court as a “public benefit company” that will continue to sell OxyContin but use profits to compensate thousands of communities who have sued Purdue.
Purdue will pay $225 million toward a $2 billion criminal forfeiture and $2.8 billion to resolve its civil liability under the False Claims Act.
In a statement, the DOJ said “Purdue Pharma actively thwarted the United States’ efforts to ensure compliance and prevent diversion. The devastating ripple effect of Purdue’s actions left lives lost and others addicted.”
But Purdue Pharma is a company. It was run by people who set the opioid epidemic in motion and profited from it. They, not an abstract concept known as “the company,” are responsible for the harm that was done.
Someone must have known abou the more than 10 billion OxyContin pills sold in the two small West Virginia towns.
Will the Sacklers and the Purdue executives who profited from the small town across American that were beset with problems stemming from opioid deaths be held accountable. What about the people who died, and their families that will never be the same.
Or will the brass at Purdue Pharma join the Wall Street executives of the Great Recession who no doubt still live the high life while older Americans who lost jobs and savings pinch pennies.