After years of pain, victims of the opioid crisis confront the Sackler family in court


NEW YORK (AP) — Releasing years of anguish and anger, victims of opioid abuse and those who have lost loved ones to an addiction crisis dating back more than two decades have unloaded their emotions about the family members they blame for fueling the deadly outbreak.

Thursday’s unusual hearing, conducted virtually in US bankruptcy court, gave them what they’ve wanted for years: the chance to confront members of the Sackler family who own OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. and to tell them about the lasting pain that addiction and overdoses have had in their lives. Lives.

READ MORE: Purdue Pharma and US states agree new settlement for opioid crisis

“When you created OxyContin, you created so much loss for so many people. … I am outraged that you did not recognize the crisis you created,” said Kay Scarpone, addressing the three members of the Sackler family in attendance.She lost her son Joseph Scarpone, a former Marine, to addiction a month before his 26th birthday.

Appearing by audio only was Richard Sackler, the former Chairman and Chairman of Purdue who said the company and family were not to blame for the opioid crisis, and also a son of Raymond Sackler, one of three brothers who in the 1950s bought the company. which became Purdue Pharma. Also on video were Theresa Sackler, wife of the late Mortimer D. Sackler, another of the brothers; and David Sackler, son of Richard Sackler.

Theresa and David’s neutral expressions didn’t change as Scarpone spoke.

She was one of about two dozen people whose lives and families have been devastated by opioid abuse who are making statements in US bankruptcy court. They tell of the pain of losing children after years of trying to get them adequate treatment, of their own journey through addiction, and of caring for babies born in withdrawal and screaming in pain.

The forum is an unconventional hearing for White Plains, New York, courtroom of Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain, who on Wednesday gave tentative approval to key elements of a plan to settle thousands of lawsuits against the company .

“The nature of today’s proceedings is unique and significant,” Mr. Drain said to open the hearing. “The past and current impact of OxyContin on individuals has always been of critical importance in this case.”

The hearing is expected to last two hours. Drain said members of the Sackler family and others will not have the opportunity to respond to statements from the group of victims selected to speak by lawyers for creditors in the case. Some of the victims approach the Sacklers from a law firm in New York; others will be at home in communities across the United States

The hearing is perhaps the closest thing to a trial for members of the Sackler family, who victims say helped start and prolong the outbreak through the marketing of their signature painkiller OxyContin. It’s a crisis that has become deadlier in recent years, largely due to deaths from illicit forms of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

This is not the first time family members have appeared in public places devoted to Purdue’s role in the opioid crisis. Two testified before a congressional subcommittee in 2020 and some were part of a virtual Purdue bankruptcy hearing last year.

Members of the Sackler family expressed regret for the crisis, but they never offered an unequivocal apology.

Last week they released a statement saying in part: “While the families acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription drug that continues to help people with chronic pain, has become unexpectedly part of an opioid crisis that has caused heartbreak and loss to far too many families and communities.

The settlement agreement is believed to be worth at least $10 billion over time. He calls on members of the Sackler family to contribute $5.5 billion to $6 billion over 17 years to address the opioid crisis. That’s an increase of more than $1 billion from a previous version that was thrown out by another appeals judge. Most of the money would be used to fight the crisis, but $750 million would go directly to victims or their survivors.

The comprehensive settlement, which still requires actions from multiple courts to take effect, provides more than $150 million to Native American tribes and more than $100 million for medical monitoring and payments for children born with opioid withdrawal.

NEWS WRAP: Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors to pay $26 billion in opioid settlement

As the settlement was reached with a mediator, the terms went beyond money. The plan also calls on family members to relinquish ownership of the business so it can become a new entity whose profits will be dedicated to stemming the outbreak. In exchange, members of the Sackler family would be protected from civil lawsuits over opioids.

The family also agreed not to oppose any effort to remove the Sackler name from the cultural and educational institutions they supported and to make public a larger cache of company documents.

Purdue Pharma began selling OxyContin, a pioneering extended-release prescription painkiller, in 1996. At the same time, Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies were funding efforts to get doctors and other prescribers to think differently about opioids — suggesting that be used for certain pain conditions. for which potent drugs were previously considered prohibited.

Over the decades there have been waves of fatal overdoses – first associated with prescription drugs, then, as prescriptions became harder to get and some drugs became harder to handle for a quick high, from heroin. More recently, fentanyl and similar drugs have become the biggest killers.

Purdue has twice pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but no member of the Sackler family has been charged with any crimes. There is no indication that such charges are imminent, although seven US senators last month asked the Justice Department to consider charges.

Other drugmakers, distributors, marketers and pharmacies involved in the opioid industry have faced similar lawsuits from state and local governments, Native American tribes and other entities.

Last month, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and wholesalers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson announced they were finalizing settlements worth a combined $26 billion. As in the proposed Purdue settlement, most of that money is to be used to fight the crisis.

Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

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