Big Pharma Paying for Role in Opioid Crisis

A big pharmaceutical company is finally having to pay for some of the misery it has caused. The people behind Purdue Pharma, who many believe are primarily responsible for driving the opioid epidemic in the United States, will have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit related to their illicit marketing practices.

The Connecticut-based company, which is privately owned by the Sackler family, produces a narcotic prescription painkiller called OxyContin that experts believe have caused the death of in excess of 350,000 people over the past 20 years. But a small amount of comeuppance came recently when they were forced to pay the state of Oklahoma nearly $300 million to settle a lawsuit that the state brought against the company because of the way it used aggressive and illegal tactics to market OxyContin.

In spite of the large sum Purdue Pharma paid, it is still small compared to the billions of dollars the company earned off the misery inflicted on the public through the over-prescribing of OxyContin. But the settlement will likely serve as a landmark for other lawsuits like it. Currently, there are hundreds of suits pending against the company, which has been filed by authorities across the country. What’s more, just last week hundreds of local authorities filed a suit in New York federal court against members of the Sackler family themselves.

Also notable about the Oklahoma settlement was the fact that Sackler family members were personally included in it. These family members will personally contribute $75 million toward the total settlement. This is important because, up until now, the family has kept quiet about all the suffering their product has caused, despite all public uproar over it. They kept quiet while the narcotic made them super rich.

Interestingly, the Sackler family made the contribution to the settlement voluntarily. The state of Oklahoma did not even list them as defendants in the suit. But even they had to accept their culpability in the matter. While they issued a statement in response to the settlement that explicitly denied any guilt on their part, their $75 million dollars will be used for an addiction center located on the campus of Oklahoma State University, and it may in some small way help undo a little of the ill they have caused.

The company itself also issued a statement in response to the massive settlement. Like with the Sackler family, they tried to employ semantics to worm their way out of any legal responsibility for their actions. They explicitly denied any guilt in the matter and indicated that the settlement was simply to help those who are and will be facing the effects of being addicted to their product. But money speaks a lot louder than words, especially when it comes from the people running big pharma, and that they were forced to part with hundreds of millions of their ill-gotten gains screams guilt to the entire world.

Those of us who were delighted to see justice prevail in this case may become even happier in the future. That is because this case was relatively small in terms of dollar amounts. A lot bigger cases are on the docket against both Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. Legal experts believe that Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family could end up paying many billions of dollars in settlements because of their role in the opioid crisis. So far, 36 different states have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and companies just like Purdue Pharma.

Also, the blowback against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family is going well beyond the courtroom. Recently, a slew of major museums — including the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the National Portrait Gallery in London — have announced that they will no longer take dirty money from trusts established by the Sackler family. This came after a number of protests from both activists and artists. The latter included famed photographer Nan Goldin.

The case against Purdue Pharma and OxyContin is not a new one. Way back in 2007, a court convicted Purdue Pharma of illicitly marketing the drug. These current lawsuits all relate to the fact that the company has continued its shady practices since their conviction. They continue to make false claims about how effective and safe their drug is, which has contributed to the addiction of countless people.

The Oklahoma suit was actually not the first time Purdue Pharma had settled a lawsuit related to OxyContin. Previously, they settled two smaller suits in both Kentucky and West Virginia that totaled in the tens of millions of dollars. Again, they did so without formally admitting any guilt.

The money obtained from these lawsuits is much needed. It is needed to fund not only treatment programs for those who have become addicted to opioids, but also to take care of all the children who are without parents because they either have died from opioids or are no longer able to care for their children because of their opioid addictions.

At the moment, the opioid epidemic shows no signs of abating. Every day, 150 people succumb to this terrible scourge. But at least now someone is finally paying for it, and it is the someone chiefly responsible for the scourge.