By Darwin Brandis via Getty

Billionaires of Death: An Effort to Force the Sacklers to Pay for Opioid Crisis

Disbelief. Sorrow. Anger. Those are some of the emotions gripping victims, survivors, dozens of attorneys general and many federal lawmakers today – a day after a federal judge in White Plains, NY agreed to move forward with the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy filing. The suit stems from the company’s once astronomical sales of opioids — namely OxyContin, which is what made the Sackler family multi-billionaires even as sales fueled the raging opioid crisis — which in turn left hundreds and hundreds of thousands of caskets and grieving loved ones in the company’s destructive wake.

“It’s just sickening. It’s sickening,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York told The News Station recently. “I can’t believe that people could be so cruel and greedy at the expense of other people.”

The 15-term Democrat serves on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating what a bipartisan swath of lawmakers dub immoral, unethical and illegal behavior. Back in 2007, senior executives of Purdue Pharma pled guilty to deceiving the public about the highly addictive nature of their opioids. No member of the Sackler family admitted culpability back then, even after the family moved billion of dollars out of the company to shield it from victims and courts. 

“It’s just sickening. It’s sickening. I can’t believe that people could be so cruel and greedy at the expense of other people.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney

In 2020, the Department of Justice did secure a more than $8 billion settlement from Purdue. While it was historic in its scope, it was empty to most victims, especially because the Sacklers had already moved on. That’s why even now, the bankruptcy decision by the federal judge falls woefully short of the restitution people are demanding.

“I think more people died of the opioid crisis – and continue to die – than are dying of COVID, quite frankly,” Maloney continued. “The Sacklers literally fueled and supported and hired — who did they hire? They hired a consulting firm to advise them on how to get more people hooked — I mean, just, it’s just sickening.”

Maloney is hoping to put an end to behavior like this from powerful and wealthy companies. She’s the lead sponsor of the SACKLER Act. It stands for the Stop Shielding Assets from Corporate Known Liability by Eliminating Non-Debtor Releases (SACKLER) Act.

The measure seeks to close a loophole in federal bankruptcy law which allowed the Sacklers themselves to be protected (along with the billions of dollars they shielded from authorities and victims alike) from ongoing lawsuits even after the company, not the family, filed for bankruptcy protections.

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“I’d say that the SACKLER Act is a critical step toward ensuring accountability for the harm the Sacklers inflicted on communities and some form of justice for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the opioid epidemic,” Maloney said.  

Put simply, Maloney says her bill would stop protections like this in the future, especially after more than half a million people have died as a result of Purdue Pharma – and the Sacklers themselves, according to the Department of Justice – and it’s highly addictive drug, OxyContin.  

“Which they fostered, hired people to get people hooked on it, and did not go through the proper review process,” Maloney said. “Now, the bankruptcy filing is not the Sackler family. It’s for the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy filing. But this would obtain a release for them — members of the family — who made billions of dollars over the opioids while many Americans got hooked and died.” 

“Just a terrible scandal, and it’s just outrageous,” Maloney said. “And in the filing, they’re not calling themselves bankrupt. It’s really the bankruptcy filing for Purdue Pharma.”

Maloney says it’s astounding that the Sacklers are protected, even after they never sought bankruptcy protection.

She says her bill would fix this by making it so the Sacklers and others “can’t evade responsibility through bankruptcy proceedings, particularly when they personally are not the ones claiming bankruptcy.”

“Just a terrible scandal, and it’s just outrageous.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney

The senior Democrat and ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is vowing to push this bipartisan measure in the coming weeks and months.

“You could understand it for the bankruptcy proceedings, but they’re not even involved in it,” Maloney told The News Station, “And the SACKLER Act specifies that a bankruptcy court cannot release claims brought by states, tribes, municipalities or the US government against non-debtors. They’re not the debtors — it’s Purdue that is.”

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

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