So, who doesn’t daydream a little about money? Maybe even big money. Just imagine a scenario where, if you could put up $3,000, you could keep $13,000, or if you forked over $30,000, and walked away with $130,000? So how great would it be if you paid $3 billion but could stuff $13 billion into your pockets?
What a deal! Of course, it depends on whose perspective you look at it from.
Federal prosecutors and a bankruptcy court may give a plutocratic family that deal, along with a hard-to-imagine get-out-of-jail free card, news organizations report.
This justice-for-the-rich scheme may be approved before the election. It involves the Sackler clan and the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and cost the nation more than $1 trillion.
This Big Pharma nightmare is far from over, with reports that it has worsened due to the isolation, loneliness, joblessness, fright, and mental stress with which Americans are struggling due to the coronavirus.
But a cornerstone case in the hunt for justice with the purveyors of prescription painkillers may be headed to a gut-wrenching end — as the New Yorker magazine reported, the Sacklers might “get away with it.”
What exactly? As the New Yorker and Reuter news service articles illustrate, to describe the accusations against the Sacklers and their family-controlled pharmaceutical business, Purdue, is no short, simple matter. Purdue not only pioneered but also aggressively pushed prescription painkillers, specifically the powerful drug Oxy-Contin. It is well-documented that Sackler family members prodded corporate executives and sales underlings to promote Oxy-Contin in what would become a Big Pharma template for enlisting doctors, nurses, hospitals, and others in health care to also flog risky and addictive medications.
The Sacklers, Purdue, and other makers of potent painkillers — pills and synthetics — insisted that their products were approved by regulators and that they acted without reproach. Purdue, for example, reformulated Oxy, so it was harder to crush up to snort or inject. Still, as tens of thousands of patients became addicted, debilitated, and died due to painkillers (as well as their gateway effect to illicit drugs), the firms only stepped up their opioid pushing. They ignored alarms about small towns in the Midwest and South getting deluged with incomprehensible volumes of painkillers.
Big Pharma, finally, could not sidestep federal prosecutors and an avalanche of lawsuits, particularly from states, counties, cities, and Indian tribes. More than 2,000 claims have been consolidated in a Cleveland federal court, with a federal judge hoping to reach a “global settlement,” akin to a deal that Big Tobacco struck to get its industry out of the courts.
Ducking into corporate bankruptcy
But the Sacklers, as the news reports show, had their own legal ploy, pushing Purdue into federal bankruptcy, finding a favorable jurist and jurisdiction for their case, and taking a tough stance with the U.S. Justice Department.
The family’s latest bait included what seems like a sizable settlement offer: the above-mentioned $3 billion. But this is part of a bold (as in chutzpah) take-it-or-leave-it bid: In exchange for that sum, which the governments involved could sorely use, especially due to the pandemic, the family insists that there will be zero criminal charges filed against them. They may be on the brink of persuading the bankruptcy judge to bar any further civil claims against the company or the family. Purdue may end up making yet more painkillers (for sale overseas) to pay for the settlement, and part of the deal will be covered by an iffy financing plan for the company to be publicly controlled.
Here is what critics see as a galling, glaring part of this plan — which the courts and governments may approve: The Sacklers will walk off with a fortune still, guesstimated at $13 billion. This is partly due to the Sackler choice — to put their company but not themselves, as well, in bankruptcy. Litigants have complained to the courts that the family has maneuvered for some time now to strip Purdue of value, moving money from the company to offshore Sackler accounts.
The sums might be staggering for most Americans. Fantasy time again? Imagine being such a fat cat that you could spend $100,000 a day. Let’s see, that’s $36.5 million annually. You could burn through cash like that for 27 years before nearing $1 billion, and it could take a big bucks family, well, three and a half centuries to blow through $13 billion at this rate.
OK, so the clan, media reports say, includes 20 Sacklers. If they “get away” with their proposed deal, each might end up with $650 million. In the free-spending scenario of tossing out $100,000 a day, each Sackler still could go for almost two decades on the existing cash. And you know that if you start with $650 mil and you have savvy investment advisors (not of the kind who apparently talked with the current occupant of the White House), well, could the dream vision deal with “existing” on $19.5 million annually (that’s a most modest 3% thrown off by investing that $650 mil)?
Here’s the dark part of this scenario: How does anyone NMF through life, always asserting “Not My Fault!” as the death and destruction mounts from the product and processes that made you wealthy? Is the family’s now disdained philanthropy (notably in art, though also in science and medicine) karmically off-setting for the opioid and drug overdose carnage?
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their families by dangerous drugs. A long chain of people, companies, institutions, regulators, and politicians share the blame for the unacceptable wreckage that prescription painkillers have caused.
It is never easy or clear just how to keep happy all parties in complex cases in the civil justice system. But Americans cannot rest easy if parties central in a calamity skate away. It is true that judges and juries can be unpredictable, and who knows the outcomes of civil or criminal cases pursued, instead of settled.
In 2020, if current forecasts hold up, the toll of the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis will spike to its previous, painful highs — including almost 80,000 deaths. We have work to do not only to combat this public health catastrophe but also to ponder hard what justice will be forthcoming for those victimized.