Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is reportedly on the verge of filing for bankruptcy as a way to help settle the thousands of lawsuits it faces in response to the opioid epidemic that has caused thousands of deaths and left many areas of the United States ravaged.
OxyContin Creator Reportedly on Verge of Bankruptcy
The lawsuits claim that Purdue Pharma, and the secretive Sackler family who owns it, used misleading and possibly illegal tactics to have OxyContin approved by the federal government in 1995. The Massachusetts Attorney General's office went so far as to allege that Purdue Pharma engineered the opioid crisis.
Purdue strongly denies the merits of the lawsuits, claiming that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels on its opioids carried clear warnings about the risks involved of abuse and misuse associated with the drugs.
If Purdue files for Chapter 11 protection, this would automatically halt the lawsuits and give the company the opportunity to negotiate legal claims directly with plaintiffs under the supervision of a U.S. bankruptcy judge.
While the reports of the company's intentions to file for bankruptcy have not been confirmed, it is believed that the mounting pressure of the claims is forcing the Sacklers to consider all of their options.
Lawsuits Evoke Memories of Big Tobacco Settlements
With over 1,000 lawsuits accusing Purdue and other opioid manufacturers of using deceitful practices to push the addictive drugs which have led to thousands of deaths and a crisis so bad that it is actually recognized as an epidemic, many observers have compared the situation the Sackler family find themselves in to that of Big Tobacco in the late 1990s. Widespread lawsuits against the tobacco industry resulted in a $246 billion settlement in 1998.
Few who are familiar with the opioid crisis will feel much sympathy for the Sacklers right now. This is particularly true when considering the fact that recently released emails from 1997 showed that Dr. Richard Sackler knew very well that oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, was much stronger than morphine.
Michael Friedman, Purdue's head of sales and marketing, wrote the following to Dr. Sackler in a 1997 email:
"We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that."
Dr. Sackler's reply was:
"I agree with you. Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?"
Negotiate or Fight? Sacklers Face Dilemma
The public profile of the billionaire Sacklers has undoubtedly been destroyed by the overwhelmingly negative press the lawsuits have brought the famously reclusive family. With that being said, the most recent statement from Purdue Pharma suggests that they may still feel the lawsuits being brought against them might not be as cut-and-dried as some would like to believe.
A statement from the company read:
"As a privately-held company, it has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy. We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable. We have ample liquidity and remain committed to meeting our obligations to the patients who benefit from our medicines, our suppliers and other business partners."
Purdue Pharma's Chickens Come Home to Roost
The family behind Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, have a long history of supporting the arts, with the Sackler name sponsoring rooms and entire wings of some of the world's most prestigious museums.
Cynics could view this patronage as the family's not-very-subtle attempt at trying to positively promote the family name while its members live the life of luxury that comes from the massive gains of aggressively promoting an addictive drug that has destroyed the lives of potentially millions of everyday Americans.
Those whose lives have been negatively affected by OxyContin might get just a little bit of succor from the fact that the Sacklers do now to seem to be against the ropes. And in a nice twist of bitter irony, one of the people who most actively lobbied for the secretive family to be tried in the public court of opinion is, in fact, an esteemed contemporary artist.
The artist Nan Goldin suffered years of addiction to OxyContin, and she has been one of the key figures in shining a light on the Sacklers' major role in the opioid crisis and the vast wealth they have generated from it - $35 billion of which is said to have come from the sales of OxyContin.
It's far too late for the damage done by the Sacklers to be repaired, but at least it appears that some form of justice is now slowly starting to be served.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to, CCN.