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Purdue Pharma and Sacklers are on the Final Test of US Opioid Settlement

Purdue Pharma LP and its owners, the Sackler family, are reaching the end of their decades-long relationship with opioids, seeking court clearance to pay billions of dollars and exit the industry that helped them create their wealth. On Thursday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain will begin an 11-day trial — the longest of his career – to consider a plan valued at more than $10 billion by the firm to resolve trillions of dollars in liabilities related to the addictive opioid OxyContin.

If Purdue’s plan is adopted, the family would pay $4.5 billion over nine or ten years and essentially hand over the company’s keys, with practically all future earnings going to states, counties, and towns that have been struck hard by the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers receive lifetime immunity from a wide range of opioid-related lawsuits in exchange. If the deal is denied, family members will almost certainly become embroiled in expensive litigation that will last years.

Years of political pressure and public outcry over Purdue Pharma have culminated in the New York trial. Critics claim the bankruptcy is a representation of corporate greed and that the corporation will continue to be a symbol of it. Last week, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called for an immediate appeal of Purdue’s plan, arguing that it allows the Sacklers to “avoid personal accountability” by “abusing” the courts, while comedian John Oliver delivered a 23-minute rant criticising the deal for leaving the family with a large portion of the profits from OxyContin sales.

Purdue actively promoted what was effectively an uncontrolled experiment on the general public in the United States. While the plan’s billions of dollars look to be large and significant, they are woefully inadequate in the face of the opioid epidemic. Onlookers hoping for a Sackler-bashing spectacle and a wide-ranging discussion about the effects of OxyContin on Americans are likely to be disappointed.

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