The holdouts against the Sackler deal

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.


  1. says

    For the Sacklers, the deal amounts just paying higher taxes for a year. Once that’s behind them, they can buy their way back into what passes for “high society” and they’ll be back to being “philanthropists” again. They’ll have a good PR team getting them favorable coverage.

  2. another stewart says

    @2: The reporting that I’ve seen says the Purdue missold the product. It was supposed to provide effective pain management without risk of addiction, but it turned out not to do so, leading to people who were legitimately prescribed the drug becoming addicted. I’m willing to believe that the drug was initially marketed in good faith, which would be a tragedy but not a crime. A collection of other subsequent misdeeds have been alleged -- I haven’t followed the court cases, but I presume from the verdicts that some of them were substantiated.

    This WikiPedia article on one of the court cases gives some information

  3. says

    I’m still waiting for a valid explanation of how they’re “responsible” for some people’s *choices* to misuse their product.

    Their marketing message to doctors was “it’s not addictive” and they basically bribed doctors to prescribe it widely. The crime was the deception. To be fair, one could well argue that much marketing is criminal lies (I do so argue) and the companies that substantially misrepresent their products should be held liable. As happens.

  4. Holms says

    #2 WMD
    Sigh. One of Mano’s recurring topics since 2017 is the Sackler family, and this has been your reply for the last couple of years. A summary:

    This reply in 2019 is the first time you ask it, but the conversation had faded out and you received no reply. Fair enough then that you ask it again the next time the topic returned, and this time you get the asked-for explanation. I replied with a terse explanation, Rob Grigjanis gave you a link and quotes one of Purdue’s lies, and Mano linked to two sources detailing Sackler/Purdue dishonesty. You made no reply.

    When Mano returned to the topic in 2021, the first reply is one WMDKitty, asking the exact same thing. John Morales and Mano reply with links. A conversation ensues with multiple people chipping in, some more peevishly than others; explanatory points are made in many different ways. You do not take part in it.

    Mano returns to the topic a few months later, this time with a John Oliver feature on the topic. You reply that you are “still waiting” for an explanation, as if the previous conversations had never taken place. John Morales replies with a summary, again getting no response from you.

    And here we are just a few months later. Mano raises the Sackler topic again, and like clockwork, you reply with the exact same goddamn question. You’re “still waiting” for an explanation. No wait, your still waiting for a valid explanation this time. I guess you did read those multitudes of replies after all, you just dismissed them as invalid. Fuck off with that. Are you at least going to respond to the explanations this time? Maybe you’d like to explain why none of what you’ve read counts as valid, and go from there. But at the very least, stop pretending you’ve never had this explained to you.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Holms @#5,

    Thanks for the exhaustive response, sparing me from having to go through the archives!

  6. JM says

    To a certain extent bankruptcy courts are the way they are intentionally. The idea being to be generous in bankruptcy court so that the company stays in business and avoid all of the employees losing their jobs. The problem is the same one as investment groups. The owners and managers can often rig things to extract the remaining value, transfer it to themselves and then let it go under anyways.

  7. John Morales says

    Holms, that’s a nuclear bomb type of comment. I’d be proud of it.

    Most plausible explanation for WMDKitty’s stance, IMO, is that they (or a close relation) is a recreational user.

  8. Holms says

    #6 Mano
    No problem; I suspected I was not the only one exasperated to see “It’s been years now, and I’m still waiting…” for all the world as if no explanation had ever been made.

    #8 John
    Having very recently gained some expertise on WMD’s attitude towards drug use, yup.

  9. says

    Okay, someone finally “explained”. Thank you. But you’re still entirely wrong.

    Opioids are categorically not “addictive” if used exactly as prescribed, so the marketing was, in fact, accurate. There was no “deception” outside of “addicts” (and enablers) imaginations. Millions upon millions of non-addicted chronic pain patients put the lie to y’all’s claims, here. And WE are the ones suffering the most from this bullshit verdict, because doctors are now refusing to prescribe at all, forcing people to turn to unsafe street drugs to try and manage their pain, resulting in tragic overdoses.

    Now, the “problem” arose when some people chose to double-dose, or take it “just a little earlier” than they were supposed to, and got themselves hooked. That is, people chose to ignore clear instructions, and misused the product in an unsafe manner that they had specifically been warned against. (I’ve been on opioids, they absolutely drill you on this stuff before they even let you have the prescription, let alone the drugs themselves. The pharmacist repeats all of the instructions, too. There is no possible way to get opioids prescribed without several people heavily emphasizing just how important it is that you follow the instructions exactly as written.)

    The only people responsible are the ones who made that choice to misuse and abuse the product.

    Y’all’s position is coddling and enabling “addicts” to remain “sick” instead of forcing them to face up to the choices they made. It’s always “someone else’s fault” with that sort. “The doctor got me hooked,” or “the manufacturer lied”, never “I made a bad choice and I need to take responsibility for it.”

    As for my own experience with “addicts”, yes, I’ve had friends and family who have made the choice to use substances irresponsibly. I can confirm that yes, it is ALWAYS A CHOICE TO USE. Drugs don’t magically appear in your bloodstream, you have to actively ingest them, which means you’re making a conscious choice to do it. If my older brother wanted to get and stay clean, he easily could, he’s got the strength and the smarts. He chooses not to because it requires hard work and committing to making better choices. (We’re not holding our breath.) I’ve sat and watched a friend sell a nice TV and gaming console because he prioritized his crack habit over real fun. He even admitted later, while in recovery, that it was a bad choice. So don’t come at me with “addicts are poor victims of evil doctors and dealers” DARE bullshit. I’ve seen it all up close and personal and know the truth: “addiction” is a choice.

    @Holms — Yes, because being interested in the history of how humans have found various ways of altering their consciousness is, like, somehow an indicator of my morals or ethics. Get ALL THE WAY BENT.

  10. John Morales says

    WMDKitty, and yet Opioid Manufacturer Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Fraud and Kickback Conspiracies.

    (November, 2020)

    As part of today’s guilty plea, Purdue admitted that from May 2007 through at least March 2017, it conspired to defraud the United States by impeding the lawful function of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Purdue represented to the DEA that it maintained an effective anti-diversion program when, in fact, Purdue continued to market its opioid products to more than 100 health care providers whom the company had good reason to believe were diverting opioids. Purdue also reported misleading information to the DEA to boost Purdue’s manufacturing quotas. The misleading information comprised prescription data that included prescriptions written by doctors that Purdue had good reason to believe were engaged in diversion. The conspiracy also involved aiding and abetting violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act by facilitating the dispensing of its opioid products, including OxyContin, without a legitimate medical purpose, and thus without lawful prescriptions.

    Purdue also admitted it conspired to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute. Between June 2009 and March 2017, Purdue made payments to two doctors through Purdue’s doctor speaker program to induce those doctors to write more prescriptions of Purdue’s opioid products. Also, from April 2016 through December 2016, Purdue made payments to Practice Fusion Inc., an electronic health records company, in exchange for referring, recommending, and arranging for the ordering of Purdue’s extended release opioid products – OxyContin, Butrans, and Hysingla.

  11. says

    Opioids are categorically not “addictive” if used exactly as prescribed

    Are you kidding?

    Opiates are prescribed to manage pain during a period of time, taken regularly. They absolutely can be addicting, depending on the time period. For example, when I broke my jaw in 2013, the doctor sent me home from surgery with a scrip for 2 liters of liquid roxicet, and an explanation that it was up to me to space out the doses for the 2 months I was going to have my jaw wired shut. I did the math and had to figure out my own dosages. It took me a couple months after I was better, for the cravings to stop. Then, when I had my kidney stone, they sent me home with 8 hits of oxy and told me “take it only when it’s unbearable.” The stone passed in 4 days and I was boosting with ibuprofen. By the end of 4 days the oxy was gone and I was constipated and hungry for more.

    Maybe you have imaginary doctors that precisely prescribe opiates, with precise dosage schedules but that’s not how pain management works, so I’m inclined to dismiss you as just being a crank. Every pain management situation I’ve been involved with -- including 2 cancer deaths -- the opiates are “to be taken when it’s unbearable and when you run out you’ll have to beg for more” -- the folks who wind up addicted to opiates are either exploring the abyss willingly, or following doctors’ orders and on long-term pain management. With the kidney stone, I’d have cheerfully taken twice as much -- but they restrict it because it’s both habit-forming and addictive.

    Okay, someone finally “explained”

    Apparently it has been “explained” to you plenty, you’re just intellectually dishonest. Noted.

    The only people responsible are the ones who made that choice to misuse and abuse the product.

    I’ve never had a doctor discuss addiction potential with me. They control addiction potential as well as they can by capping your maximum dose -- unless you’re dying in hospice and even then they don’t control it because they aren’t worried if you get addicted any more.

    Millions upon millions of non-addicted chronic pain patients put the lie to y’all’s claims, here.

    You’re playing games with words, here, or you’re outright lying or clueless. For example I am not addicted because I ran out and couldn’t get more. I’d still be tripping on Roxicet if I still had a supply. Yes there are millions of people who take opiates and are able to fight mild addiction afterward, but that doesn’t mean opiates are not addictive -- it means there are millions of people who put up with a few days of coming down and getting over it. Let me assure you: 2 months on opiates, you will feel it when you stop.

    I recommend Booth’s opium: a history. It goes back over this stuff without the bullshit.

    Your theory is also problematic when you consider doctors like Hitler’s who got him hooked on Oxy (an early version) -- Hitler may have had no idea that his “prescription” that he was taking was addicting him. There are assloads of examples of veterans who came home addicted to morphine, which they were dosed with by doctors in a non-recreational context. In other words, your theory, in the context of documented history of opiate addictions -- is nonsensical.

    Y’all’s position is coddling and enabling “addicts” to remain “sick” instead of forcing them to face up to the choices they made. It’s always “someone else’s fault” with that sort.

    Oh, I see now. You’re a sadist.

    Here’s another way of thinking about it: why the fuck not just be high on opiates if a person wants? If the dose and purity are managed, you can be a life-long addict and still have a pretty great life. Argumentum ad Keith Richards. The people who die are the ones who go cold turkey, de-habituate, then spike themselves with a dose they could handle when they were habituated. The “don’t be addicted” model also kills. Like you, I don’t give much of a shit about addicts, but I’m not a sadist who wants my personal preferences to control someone else’s medical experience.

    I can confirm that yes, it is ALWAYS A CHOICE TO USE. Drugs don’t magically appear in your bloodstream.

    Apparently you’ve never experienced mind-blowing extended pain. It is not a choice to want painkillers sometimes. And it’s none of your business anyway.

    Sounds like you’ve got some “issues” with your family and I’m sorry for you all, but denying that addiction is real is an asinine attempt to avoid confronting reality. You resent your family who you see as “weak” but that doesn’t qualify you to say jack shit to post-surgery patients, oncology patients, etc.

    Go learn what the fuck you’re talking about and stop talking stupid shit.

  12. says

    So, to amplify Morales’ comment: when doctors were told there was a great effective painkiller that was less addictive, they wrote massive prescriptions for it because they had been told it was OK. Fast forward a few years and patients were showing up asking for pain management because they were hooked. Some didn’t even know they were hooked, they just knew that it made them feel better (or: not as bad) it wasn’t until a few years into the crisis that some doctors set up “pill mills” to service the need that had been created.

    I had a friend in those days who had bowel cancer (advice: do wear that asbestos mask) and multiple massive surgeries. At that time, the doc wrote him a scrip for 5mg oxy, 100 to a bottle, refillable for a year. Now comes a couple questions: when your cancer patient starts howling in pain because his body is trying to take a shit but he has no intestines, is he addicted or is it necessary pain management? Next question: who the fuck are you that it’s your goddamn business? The cancer patient can’t stop taking the oxy like it’s popcorn because they are addicted AND the pain will obliterate them. If he had survived he would have been in hell trying to come off a year of eating opiates like candy. He’d have had a lot of pain and issues and he’d have popped you like a zit if you’d gotten in his face and told him to man up because he wasn’t really addicted. Part of what you don’t appear to understand is that in some situations you manage the pain and when the healing is done then you manage the addiction.

  13. Holms says

    Okay, someone finally “explained”.

    Knock that off. You’ve had many replies explaining Sackler culpability, not to mention Mano’s posts themselves. I documented these instances above, and the wording of your comment #2 implies you saw at least the more recent ones, yet here you are still pretending no explanations have yet been supplied. You are being dishonest.

    Opioids are categorically not “addictive” if used exactly as prescribed, so the marketing was, in fact, accurate.

    How many posts (and reply threads) have you read that documented Purdue’s lies about the addictiveness of opioids? Patients were lied to about how liberally they could take opioids without addiction, because the doctors writing the prescriptions were themselves lied to. The doctors were also given financial incentives to prescribe Purdue’s drugs to as many people as possible, which they were happy to do given the lies they had been fed about their safety. We can criticise them perhaps for having low scepticism, but when the company conducting the research falsifies the study data, they never stood a chance.

    Do you see the problem with following the prescription to remain safe? The prescriptions themselves were based on lies about the safety of the drugs. There is no need to ‘misuse’ the drugs to become addicted, when the prescribed use would lead to that outcome anyway.

    If my older brother wanted to get and stay clean, he easily could, he’s got the strength and the smarts. He chooses not to because it requires hard work and committing to making better choices.

    You display total ignorance about addiction. It is an illness, because the opioids themselves cause physical dependencies. Here’s a relatively benign example of the process: caffeine.

    Among other affects, caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, preventing other molecules interacting with them. These receptor interactions would normally gradually increase drowsiness over the course of the day, but the caffeine molecules do not have that interaction. Hence, decreased drowsiness. The body compensates for this increased competition for adenosine receptors by increasing their number. Thus increasing amounts of caffeine are needed to have the same adenosine blocking affect over time.

    This is called dependence. Opioids do this too, but they also activate the brain’s reward circuit. Thus opioids cause dependence on increased doses and provide a euphoria hit. This takes opioids past mere dependence. Physiological dependence plus reward circuit activation gives physiological addiction. It’s not just a matter of choosing to be better, it’s an actual alteration to brain chemistry.

    @Holms — Yes, because being interested in the history of how humans have found various ways of altering their consciousness is, like, somehow an indicator of my morals or ethics. Get ALL THE WAY BENT.

    There are more posts than just that one, and I notice you did not deny the speculation.

  14. tuatara says

    I have taken time to consider a response given how angry WMDKitty made me feel with their comment about addicts that addiction is a choice. I needed time to think it though to do both WMDKitty and I justice. I didn’t want to go all “Will Smith” on anyone’s ass.

    As someone who has struggled with addiction and depression I can categorically state that addiction is not a personal choice. Drugs such as opiates and opioids are absolutely addictive because they alter the chemical state of the brain. This is why in an hospital environment these chemicals are kept locked away in what is called a “dangerous drugs” safe or cupboard. They are controlled drugs, to be dispensed only by prescription. As Marcus stated above, even following the prescription can lead to addiction.

    I personally think of addiction as a black hole. It has a field that draws you into its gravity well, and the further you go in the closer you get to the event horizon from which there is no return. Not all addicts can see their event horizon, and they fall into the well of death. Sometimes a small incident, such as a run with the law, or an off-handed comment by an exasperated sibling, can push an otherwise just-balancing addict over their event horizon.
    Many addicts that can see their event horizon (thankfully I was one) find that they can use the fragments of their lives to build a ladder with which to climb out of the gravity well of addiction. The fragments are their loved ones, friends, pets, nature: that list goes on and varies addict to addict.
    If you take away from them those fragments (a sure way to see those life-fragments burned to ashes is to make an addict feel even less valuable by telling them that they are week), what chance have they to make their own escape?
    My fragments were my parents and siblings, my friends, my love of nature, and my long hidden indigenous heritage. It was incredibly hard to climb out of addiction, but I was able to do so because none of those fragments of my life ever gave up on me.
    An addict needs to be able to believe in themselves to heal themselves. Unsurprisingly, berating them does not normally work.
    The Sackler family should absolutely be held to account for their predatory peddling of these drugs. They have admitted to pushing the drugs for no other reason than to make more money. they lied to regulators, they misled government bodies tasked with controlling the supply of dangerous drugs. They are despicable pieces of shit who should be forced to sit and watch their addicts as they go through withdrawal. They need to see the pain they have caused, get spat in the face, screamed at, scratched, all that stuff. Fuck them.

    WMDKitty, please don’t give up on your brother. You might be the one remaining thing that helps him to believe in himself.

  15. Mano Singham says

    tuatara @#15,

    Thank you so much for your heartfelt response and the light it sheds on addiction from someone who has been through it. It is impossible for those of us on the outside to even imagine what it must be like.

    I am really glad that you managed to find a way out of that hole.

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