A recent in-depth report in the New Yorker details a potential settlement between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Purdue Pharma that would allow the Sackler family to maintain billions of dollars of their personal wealth and face no criminal liability for its role in the opioid epidemic.
Thousands have filed lawsuits against Purdue, claiming it helped create the crisis by using deceptive marketing to promote and downplay the dangers of the addictive prescription drug OxyContin. The company entered bankruptcy protection last year. Purdue is now prepared to pay out $3 billion to victims of the opioid crisis — but likely only on the condition that they are granted a release from future liability. (According to states’ legal filings, the total cost of the opioid crisis surpasses two trillion dollars; the Sackler’s fortune, meanwhile, is estimated at $13 billion.)
In a statement to Hyperallergic, the activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), led by artist Nan Goldin, called the proposed settlement “justice for sale, not justice for all.”
“Only billionaires like the Sacklers get to buy immunity. By continuing to shield the family from scrutiny, Judge Drain denies victims of the opioid crisis a chance to know how it was ignited,” the group told Hyperallergic.
The court of Judge Robert Drain, who is presiding over the case, has been a “safe harbor” for the Sackler family, writes Patrick Radden Keefe for the New Yorker. Last year, Drain granted a request by the Sacklers’ attorneys that prohibited any litigation against members of the family.
“If the Sacklers had been held accountable by the Department of Justice in 2007, hundreds of thousands of people could have been saved,” P.A.I.N added, referencing a previous lawsuit that resulted in Purdue paying six hundred million dollars in fines but kept the Sackler name out of the case.
“Protecting the Sacklers from future civil or criminal litigation condemns Americans to a future of Big Pharma’s predatory schemes,” the group said.
Goldin founded P.A.I.N in 2018 to raise awareness about the opioid crisis and expose the whitewashing of the Sackler family’s reputation via their philanthropic activities, particularly in the cultural sector. Since the group’s first action at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Sackler Wing in March of 2018, P.A.I.N. has mounted a series of protests calling out institutions profiting from the opioid crisis. S0me museums, like Tate in London, have vowed to stop accepting donations from the Sackler family.
But P.A.I.N is not just fighting Purdue and the Sacklers on the lofty steps of museums; as of May of this year, it has taken its battle to the court. Goldin and four other activists — Ed Bisch and Barbara Van Rooyan of R.A.P.P. (Relatives Against Purdue Pharma); Emily Walen, chair of FED UP!; and advocate Cynthia Munger — formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Accountability with the goal of ensuring transparency in the bankruptcy case.
Among its first actions, the committee filed its first papers calling for the court to extend the time period for individuals to file claims against Purdue, and to require Purdue to notify patients it “targeted” through the manipulation of private electronic health records in order to increase its sales.
“We finally have our day in court, but the bankruptcy proceedings will bring no justice to those who have lost their loved ones or have suffered the mean reality of addiction if the Sacklers do not admit culpability,” said Goldin in a press statement. “We want the truth of their deadly schemes revealed in full to the American people.”