Healey says Sackler family is trying to “hijack and abuse bankruptcy process” to protect themselves
A federal judge’s ruling this week could shield the Sackler family from the Massachusetts lawsuit over the family’s role in the opioid epidemic, and Attorney General Maura Healey is not happy with it.
Healey was among the first state attorneys general to file lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family – who own the company – for aggressive sales practices for their opioid pain reliever Oxycontin.
Purdue filed for bankruptcy and the company offered a settlement plan to resolve all claims against the company and protect it from further lawsuits. The federal judge overseeing the case on Wednesday allowed that deal to go ahead and ruled that the same protections should be given to the Sacklers individually.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen the Sacklers essentially try to hijack and abuse the bankruptcy process to block our law enforcement efforts, and that really shouldn’t be allowed, ”Healey told GBH News Thursday. “The Sacklers, like Purdue, must be held accountable for the harm they did to families who suffered such devastation during the opioid crisis. “
As the company declared bankruptcy, the Sackler family are among the wealthiest in the country, Healey said, and should not be protected from lawsuits.
“They’re not saying they’re bankrupt,” Healey said of the Sacklers. “They can’t say that because they have billions and billions of dollars. What they’re saying is that the bankruptcy court should basically let them pay states and cities money and be done with it. with that. And we say no, because the money they are offering is not enough. It is not good enough. And it is an insult to the families who have suffered so much because of their conduct. “
The Sackler family denies any wrongdoing and says family members on the company’s board of directors acted “ethically and legally.” They set up a website to defend the business and the family from what they say are “unsubstantiated allegations”.
Purdue’s plan to settle all lawsuits against the company involves a payment of more than $ 4 billion, which would be split among the many plaintiffs. Healey’s office estimates that Massachusetts would receive between $ 4 million and $ 6 million a year over the next several years.
Healey said the state will continue to oppose the settlement in bankruptcy court and any extension of protections to the Sackler family. The proposed settlement will be put to the vote of hundreds of thousands of applicants before the July 14 deadline.
“And we will vote no, because it’s just not good enough, it’s not good enough for families and it doesn’t meet the measure of justice required in this case or accountability,” Healey said.
U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., and Mark DeSaulnier, D-CA, filed federal legislation known as SACKLER law, which would prevent people who have not filed for bankruptcy from being relieved of their liability through bankruptcy proceedings. Healey is ready to testify practically in favor of this legislation next Tuesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
A provision of the proposed regulation by Purdue that Healey called “perverse and inappropriate” would turn the drug company into a so-called “public benefit corporation,” with future profits being used by states to fund efforts to combat it. the opioid crisis.
“We don’t want to participate in this,” Healey said.
That part of the plan would present an inherent conflict of interest for states, said Dr Andrew Kolodny, medical director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University.
“States should not seek to profit from future opioid sales to deal with the crisis,” said Kolodny, who previously served as an expert witness in the state of Oklahoma’s case against Purdue. “States should do all they can to promote more prudent prescribing of opioids so that fewer people become addicted, and so the epidemic will ultimately end.”
Kolodny said he doesn’t think states would gain much from the sale of Oxycontin, anyway.
“One of the reasons Perdue went bankrupt was not just all the lawsuits against Perdue, but OxyContin sales have declined due to generic competition. Now there is generic OxyContin. there really is no reason to believe that there is much value in Purdue products.
The Sackler family’s decision to be immune from prosecution has far-reaching implications, Kolodny said.
“There are significant concerns here, not only for the opioid crisis, but for other public health issues caused by corporate greed,” he said. “If the individuals who make decisions that lead to massive loss of life are able to leave billionaires, then that sets a very bad precedent.”