Two members of the Sackler family testified in front of Congress this month. David and Kathe Sackler both held executive positions and were active members on Purdue Pharma’s board during the time when OxyContin as aggressively marketed, alleged to have contributed directly to the opioid crisis. While both apologized to the victims, neither acknowledged any personal responsibility. Kathe Sackler stated that were she given the chance, she does not believe she would do anything differently.
In a recent settlement with the DOJ, Purdue Pharma plead guilty to criminal charges, but none were filed against the Sacklers individually. The settlement did not shield the Sackler family individually from being charged criminally which could account for the families reluctance to accept any personal responsibility for the epidemic.
“Watching you testify makes my blood boil. I’m not sure that I’m aware of any family in America that’s more evil than yours.” -Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) told David Sackler
The hearing was held virtually and aired video comments of parents of children that had died from opioid use before questioning began. Some senators had strong words for the Sacklers.
“Watching you testify makes my blood boil,” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) told David Sackler. “I’m not sure that I’m aware of any family in America that’s more evil than yours.”
Massachusettes Attorney General Maura Healey, one of twenty-five Attorneys General who wrote the DOJ in opposition to parts of the settlement, also wrote a statement to the congressional committee on behalf of survivors and families of the victims.
“What we do now matters,” Healey wrote to the House committee ahead of the Sacklers’ testimony. “If we let powerful people cover up the facts, avoid accountability, or create a government-sponsored OxyContin business — that’s not justice. This time, we have to get it right.”
The day before the Sackler’s testimony, a Senate Finance Committee released a report showing 10 non-profits patient advocacy groups and medical associations who influenced doctors and promoted opioid painkillers use had received $65 million in donations from the largest opioid manufacturers.
Meanwhile, coronavirus has continued to further delay the multi-district litigation suit against opioid manufactures, pharmacies, and distributors. In 2019 we had begun to see a downward curve in opioid deaths, however that trend is reversing as COVID lockdowns, social distancing, and job loss has caused a significant increase in opioid abuse in 2020.
The May 2021 MDL trial in Ohio has been rescheduled in October and another federal trial in West Virginia which was supposed to begin next month does not have a reschedule date yet.
Until these cases have been settled or litigated, federal, state, and local government will continue to have to shoulder the cost of opioid abuse on the community without the help these suits could provide for them. This leaves the plaintiffs more cash-strapped and vulnerable to taking a smaller settlement just to receive some relief.
Courts have been reluctant to hear the trial virtually due to its complexity. However, some critics believe the courts should find more creative answers to get the trials underway.
“I worry that courts aren’t being creative about providing the right to a jury trial,” said Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, a University of Georgia law professor who closely follows the opioid litigation. “If they don’t like Zoom, is there a stadium they can use? What is there that they can do to continue to have that day-in-court moment?”
Coronavirus stalls long-awaited day in court for historic opioid lawsuit, Washington Post, December 26, 2020
Members of family that led maker of OxyContin deny responsibility for opioid crisis in congressional hearing, Washington Post, December 17, 2020
Feds hit Walmart with lawsuit over opioid prescriptions, Fierce Healthcare, December 23, 2020