Why a judge rejected a settlement with the Sackler family for their role in the opioid crisis

William Brangham:

What does this latest ruling mean for Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the Sackler family, and the thousands of states and communities still grappling with this addiction epidemic?

Patrick Radden Keefe will be there again. He is the author of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.

Patrick, it’s nice to have you back on NewsHour.

Can you just remind us of the deal this judge made with her verdict?

Patrick Radden Keefe, Writer, Empire of Pain: Yes, it really is a pretty shocking development that happened with this turnaround.

It was a bankruptcy business. And for the past few years you’ve been going through a very slow process in a bankruptcy court in White Plains, New York. And this would really be the final for Purdue and the Sacklers, where there were thousands and thousands of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and hundreds of lawsuits in which members of the Sackler family themselves were actually named.

But at some point they broke up. And what happened was that Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy. The Sackler family didn’t. And so, in a sense, they were on the verge of this process in which people were trying to decide what to do with the company. They struck a deal in September that saw the Sacklers give up their interest in Purdue. All lawsuits directed against the company could essentially not be continued.

The Sacklers agreed to pay $ 4.5 billion to help resolve the opioid crisis. But above all, they would not acknowledge any wrongdoing themselves. And they would be given a real sort of – a full grant of immunity from any lawsuit against them.

And so there were a lot of people watching this case who said it was a bit strange that the Sacklers who weren’t in bankruptcy court themselves – they still had their billions of dollars – would be given some sort of discharge from everyone Future litigation by this federal bankruptcy judge, who would, for example, report to the 25 or so states that were going to sue the Sacklers, these proceedings cannot continue. Here everything is over and done with.

So that was the deal. It was completed in September. I think a lot of people were pretty uncomfortable with the result. And you are now seeing this very dramatic reversal by a federal judge overseeing whether or not this was a legitimate deal that could be pushed forward.


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