The Sacklers get off easy

The Sackler family has made billions of dollars by pushing doctors to aggressively prescribe the opioids produced by their company Purdue Pharmaceuticals to patients, thus helping cause the passive prescription drug addiction problem that has ranged so many families and communities. They then donated money to universities and other cultural institution that put their name on buildings to enable them to pose as philanthropists.

They have now been exposed for the evil people they are and as a result of the many lawsuits against the company, Purdue has sued for bankruptcy. Yesterday, with great fanfare, the department of justice announced a settlement with the company for $8 billion dollars in fines and damages. But there is less to this than meets the eye and the Sackler family actually got off easy as wealthy people do in the US.

But on Wednesday, Purdue Pharma laid that strategy to waste by agreeing to plead guilty to three criminal charges and pay $8bn in fines and damages. The company admitted to bribing doctors to unnecessarily prescribe OxyContin and to lying to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) about controls on sales of the painkiller. It also paid illegal kickbacks to a health records company to promote opioid prescribing to physicians.

“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct,” said the chairman of its board, Steve Miller.

But while Purdue’s long-awaited admission of wrongdoing over an an epidemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives over the past 21 years was widely welcomed, there was also anger over the US justice department’s failure to prosecute company executives responsible for the crimes, and suspicion about the timing of the announcement just before the election.

But Emily Walden, chair of the Fed Up! coalition of families harmed by opioids, said that with Purdue already bankrupt there is little chance of the money being paid to help the victims.

Other critics dismissed the deal as a political stunt intended to allow Donald Trump to present it as another promise fulfilled after he pledged to hold the drug industry to account for an epidemic that has run on for more than two decades.

In this deal, the Sackler family’s private fortunes remain largely untouched. The family and senior company executives need to be punished, both financially and in terms of serving prison time, for all the suffering caused by their greed.

One hopes that the other lawsuits will keep that threat alive.


  1. Holms says

    Jail time for white collar crime. It’s the only thing that they will ever understand.

    The Sacklers did a vast amount of dishonest work to push the opioids they made, including burying research showing how incredibly addictive oxycontin and similar can be -- choosing to market such drugs as addiction free despite knowing otherwise.

  2. says

    I’ve been prescribed an opioid for gout. I have no desire to take it when I’m not in pain, though I have taken it for two weeks at a time for bad cases. Takes the teeth away. A bottle of 30 pills lasted me 5 years.

    There is no guarantee I wouldn’t get hooked on Oxycontin if it had been prescribed for me.

  3. Mano Singham says

    WMDKitty @#1,

    ProPublica also had a detailed expose of what the Sacklers did to get doctors to prescribe the addictive drugs far more than they needed.

    One of those methods was a reward scheme to benefit doctors who prescribed more of the drugs.

  4. John Morales says

    I was gonna respond to WMDKitty @1, but everyone else has.

    Thing is, were I to want to get a legal “high”, I’d have taken advantage of the laxness of prescription to indulge myself — and then, it would indeed have been (if only partially) my own fault.

    As to the point of the article, I too feel that this “corporate personhood” thingy that shields those who make unethical decisions from consequences is… um, problematic.

  5. komarov says

    ““Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct,” said the chairman of its board, Steve Miller.”

    …, blatantly lying, as executives are wont to do when the courts have finished working through their latest scandal. He went on to retire, very briefly, and would quote himself on many more occasions over the course of his professional career, regurgitating bland PR boilerplate with practiced ease.

    “As to the point of the article, I too feel that this “corporate personhood” thingy that shields those who make unethical decisions from consequences is… um, problematic.”

    It’s the perfect system. Declare financial bankruptcy and your creditors get scraps or nothing. Then follow up by declaring moral bankruptcy and walk away, leaving all responsibility and accountability behind. Purdue did it! I saw it all while was in charge there…

    The only suprise that’ll come out of this is the name of the new Sackler pharma corporation.* Everything else was, fine details aside, pretty clear from the start.

    *Unless it’s one of those weird bankruptcy deals where the company apparently just continues as if nothing had happened, minus crippling debts. I can’t wrap my head around those.

  6. billseymour says

    I agree with komarov @7.

    I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s not original with me:  “I’ll believe that a corporation is a person when Texas executes one.”

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