Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
Purdue Pharma and its owners, members of the Sackler family, have reached a tentative agreement with lawyers representing plaintiffs from across the country — including states, tribes, and municipal governments — in a deal that would see the family provide a $3 billion payout over seven years. According to the New York Times, which broke the story, the settlement does not include a statement of wrongdoing in the long-running and painful saga surrounding the opioid crisis.
More than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017 in the midst of what has become an epidemic of opioid-related deaths during the last 30 years. Purdue Pharma, which patented the painkiller OxyContin in 1992, is seen as having knowingly obscured the true dangers and addictive qualities of their product. The company has taken lengths to deny any wrongdoing, settling lawsuits in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma for sums in the millions of dollars to avoid claiming fault or releasing details of their alleged malfeasance to the public record.
The settlement comes only six weeks before the start of the first federal trial before a federal judge in Cleveland — just one of several upcoming opioid litigations. But what makes the latest agreement near-unprecedented is its scope. The terms comprise what’s being called a “global” arrangement, negotiated by a team of five lawyers representing 2,300 lawsuits in federal and state courts. The resolution would end almost all cases against Purdue, which is expected to soon file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Some state attorneys have insisted that the deal falls short of their expectations. Citing the families estimated $13 billion fortune and their recent sale of the global pharmaceutical company, Mundipharma. Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut have not signed onto the deal because they would like to see the Sacklers commit an additional $1.5 billion up front. The family has refused their request.
Under Chapter 11, Purdue is able to pause the litigation against it. The company’s transformation would be overseen by a bankruptcy judge and the appointment of new trustees and a transparent board free of the Sacklers. It’s unclear if those legal proceedings would also exempt family members from pending litigation against their persons.
Hyperallergic has previously reported on the Sacklers recent alienation from the art world, a sphere they have long-dominated through donations to museums, galleries, and universities. The famous photographer Nan Goldin has led the charge against the family through her group PAIN Sackler, which has advocated for the accountability of cultural institutions and policy adjustments at the state level. Subsequently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, London’s National Gallery, the Tate, and other museums around the world have taken steps to divest themselves from the Sacklers.
Update 9/11/19 7:15pm: In a statement about the settlement sent to Hyperallergic this evening, Nan Goldin and PAIN Sackler called the tentative settlement a “hoax.”
“The Sacklers have fraudulently transferred 4 billion from their company Purdue Pharma since 2007 and funnelled these funds into offshore accounts to protect it from the litigation they knew was coming,” they wrote. “In its stead, [the Sacklers] shamelessly offer billions in Oxycontin, their drug that ignited this crisis, to pay off their debt.”
The drug policy advocates continued:
We stand by the Attorney Generals who are continuing to fight to claw back the personal wealth of this family. One family has profited off the bodies of 400,000 Americans and destroyed families and communities across the country––they deserve justice. This settlement doesn’t demand that they admit culpability and we will not settle until the Sacklers are held accountable.
We call on the American public to contact their Attorneys General and demand they stand with William Tong, Maura Healey, and Letitia James by clawing back the Sackler’s personal wealth.