The odious Sackler family that heavily promoted the use of their opioid drugs that has resulted in widespread addiction that led to many deaths and much suffering, have been pushing to have the courts sign off on a deal with state governments where their company Purdue Pharma, which is in bankruptcy, will supposedly pay fines that will go towards drug treatment and rehabilitation. The most noxious part of the deal is that the Sacklers’ ill-gotten personal fortunes will be largely untouched, they will not have to admit guilt, and they will gain immunity from future lawsuits by individuals. In other words, they will escape largely unscathed.
At the end of this month, [a New York] court – the second circuit appeals court in New York – will hear arguments over individual liability releases approved by a bankruptcy court charged with distributing Purdue Pharma’s assets. Those releases, another court found in December, weren’t authorized under the law and the plan was reversed.
But under the terms of the now-vacated deal, the Sacker family would contribute $6bn over 18 years to an opioid settlement trust. It’s a situation that angers Isaacs, and thousands of others, who feel that a measure of corporate responsibility may have been assigned, but Purdue’s decision-maker will never be held to account.
Many of the states have accepted the deal because it will get them money but a few families are objecting to the deal and holding out, because they want to see the Sacklers punished. One of those is Ellen Isaacs , whose son died of an overdose at the age of 32.
“I want my day in court,” Isaacs says in a small and direct voice. “Purdue and the Sacklers caused a genocide; they weaponized the medicine cabinets of the US.”
If the ruling that vacated the bankruptcy settlement is overturned, and the deal is reinstated in bankruptcy court, the mom turned activist-advocate plans to take her case to the supreme court. If it’s upheld, then members of the Sackler family, facing legal exposure, would probably do the same.
“I will turn the court on its head,” she warns. “This company has made billions of dollars – the blood money of our children. And I stand for everybody who has been harmed.”
Isaacs argues, with some justification, that the legal system, especially its bankruptcy courts, is far too sympathetic to the interests of businesses at the expense of the people harmed by the businesses, allowing them to essentially buy off any punishment. She wants to see the Sacklers in prison.
The legal blizzard that trails the opioid epidemic, switching from federal to state, civil to criminal (lawyers have billed close to $1bn in legal fees in the Purdue case alone) has left many of the most affected families and communities again feeling marginalized. Isaacs, in the court submission, wrote that the Sacklers had “been the puppeteers running the NYSD bankruptcy court for nearly two and a half years”.
“This needs to stop and the government needs to intervene. I’m sick of hearing about Purdue’s money. The money isn’t going to make a dent in the crisis that’s going on,” Isaacs says. “The Sacklers need to be indicted. No swanky prison, no TVs, no Bernie Madoff, Martha Stewart specials. Put an ankle monitor on them and put them out in the community to help clear up the mess.”
Isaacs’ background in mortgage fraud detection, applied to her experience in navigating the opioid issue, has led her to a conclusion: radical institutional re-organization. States that signed on to the settlement, she says, were not only ignoring the will of the people but double-dipping.
“The whole system is fraudulent,” she says. “We need total justice reform – civil, bankruptcy, criminal, juvenile. But the government is up there on Capitol Hill playing games and watching all this happen. The only thing they’re capable of doing is approving national holidays.”
The law, and especially bankruptcy law, is heavily weighted in favor of the wealthy. The Sacklers are rich enough and awful enough to try and drag this out hoping that the victims of their abuse, who do not have similarly deep pockets, will eventually give up.