SUBSTANCE ABUSE INDUSTRY NEWS #3 - Update: Purdue Pharma, LP and the Sacklers

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Update: Purdue Pharma, LP and the Sacklers 

Opioid Use Disorder is a national public health crisis that has claimed the lives of approximately 450,000 people since 1999, caused strains on our healthcare and criminal justice systems, and caused havoc in the lives of thousands of American families.

Purdue Pharma LP, its subsidiaries and its owners, the Sacklers, are one of the biggest culprits in causing this public health problem. While there are other players in this epidemic, Purdue is one of the biggest, due to its introduction and push of OxyContin as a “safe non-addictive” treatment for pain. In 2019, Purdue filed bankruptcy due to pressure from over 2,600 lawsuits brought by cities, counties, states, Native American tribes, hospitals and others. They wanted the protection from continued lawsuits that bankruptcy provides.

The allegations against Purdue and the Sacklers involve deceptively promoting its painkiller OxyContin as less addictive than other opioids. Further, this was a very involved scheme where Purdue aggressively marketed their opioid treatments while they downplayed risks of addiction and overdose. Purdue pushed doctors to overprescribe OxyContin by misleading everyone- regulators, doctors and patients about the addictiveness of the drug.  As a result, communities have been flooded with addictive prescription opioids and substance use disorder is rampant everywhere in the United States. This behavior by the Sacklers and Purdue has left families devastated, with lives that have been destroyed and oftentimes lost.  Purdue and the Sacklers have made money on all of this misery in our society. Of course, they denied the allegations.

Filing for bankruptcy is considered by many to be just the latest move by Purdue executives and owners to evade justice and accountability. The bankruptcy filing invoked an automatic stay of civil litigation against the company. The bankruptcy settlement could shield the Sackler family from all future claims and influence whether they are subject to criminal liability as well.  The full extent of Purdue and the Sackler’s knowingly creating a mass addiction problem could remain hidden in sealed documents. Many people believe this typifies the underhanded tactics of Purdue and the Sacklers. 

Early this week, in a filing in the Purdue bankruptcy proceeding, New York and 48 other states told the bankruptcy court that Purdue and the Sackler family have caused over 2.16 trillion in damage to the U.S. after pushing opioids for the better part of 20 years. New York claims total more than $165 billion, while California claims totaled more than $192 billion. The only state not pursuing claims against Purdue is Oklahoma, which settled with the company in March of 2019 for $270 million.   

In addition to the already mentioned claims from the states and other entities, Purdue faces claims exceeding $18 billion from the U.S. Justice Department related to potential penalties resulting from both criminal and civil investigations.  These allegations involve false claims to federal healthcare insurance programs by allowing doctors to write medically unnecessary opioid prescriptions, sometimes tainted by illegal kickbacks. These penalties include violations of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as well as violations of federal conspiracy and anti-kickback laws. 

Many of the claims made against Purdue in the bankruptcy are currently being processed since they were recently filed, just before a deadline of July 30 set by the bankruptcy court.  Aside from the aforementioned claims of the states, cities, counties, Indian Tribes, Hospitals and the like, there are thousands of individual claims from those who have suffered addiction to these products or lost loved ones to it.  There are estimates that these claims collectively will exceed trillions of dollars.  Estimates are that Purdue is only worth a bit more than $2 billion if liquidated.  Clearly, there is not enough money to satisfy all of the claims.  In our view, all of Purdue and Sackler money should go toward treating and healing this country from this deadly epidemic. 

For many of those who have suffered and lost loved ones, what they really want in their claims is the very thing the bankruptcy aims to avoid, transparency.  According to Barbara Van Rooyan, who has campaigned against OxyContin’s growth since her son’s death from a single pill in 2004, the biggest asset they have is the truth. She, along with other survivors formed the Ad Hoc Committee on Accountability, a group of creditors seeking to use their participation in the bankruptcy case to push for the release of all of Purdue’s internal documents, privileged and non- privileged along with all communications between the Sackler family and the company. 

Emily Walden, who lost her son in 2012 and now chairs the coalition fighting the opioid crisis, FED UP!  If I had known more at the time, my son might still be alive.  Walden is filing a wrongful death claim in the bankruptcy case and is also a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Accountability. 

PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) is an activist group founded by artist Nan Goldin, herself a survivor of OxyContin addiction.  They organized and targeted the Sacklers with protests at various places where the Sackler name was associated with philanthropic donations to galleries, museums and other places.  As a result, some places denounced the Sackler name and vowed to reject any future donations, however the greater victory was exposing the Sackler name to scrutiny and publicly establishing the family as the perpetrators of this deadly crisis, rather than philanthropists. They surely got the Sackler name in the news.

Last Spring, PAIN launched its Oxyjustice initiative to help victims and survivors file proof of claim documents with the bankruptcy court, while working to extract whatever public accountability it can from the process. Unfortunately, the complexity of the bankruptcy process helps shield Purdue and the Sacklers from the public attention and outrage.  As of late July, 61,000 personal injury claims have been filed.  This grouping of claims is only one group of many thousands of claims by other creditors, states, hundreds of counties and cities, U.S. Territories, Indian Tribes, Hospitals and other corporations.

Treating a corporation’s internal information as an asset that creditors can try to claim from the bankrupt company is a novel strategy employed by these campaigners and survivors.  Goldin says for a lot of people, getting access to Purdue papers and documents is about making sure something like this does not happen again in the future…it is also about justice…the whole story of what Purdue and the Sacklers have done needs exposureWe agree. 



Amie - RLG Director of Opioid Litigation Project

Amie Goldberg is both an attorney and a certified APRN.  After completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Whittier College, Ms. Goldberg attended nursing school at Emory University.  Ms. Goldberg’s professional experience started as a Registered Nurse at Egleston Children’s Hospital taking care of children with congenital heart disease. After a few years, she continued working in all areas of the hospital while attending Kennesaw State University on weekends in order to get her Master’s Degree in Nursing with a specialty of Primary Care Nurse Practitioner/Family Nurse Practitioner.  During her time as an APRN, Ms. Goldberg decided to attend law school at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida.   Since graduating, she has mainly practiced in the areas of personal injury and worker’s compensation, fighting for the rights of injured people. Since joining the Romano Law Group, Ms. Goldberg has been the Director of the Opioid Litigation Project.  Ms. Goldberg also practices in the area of medical malpractice and nursing home negligence, bringing an inside perspective and knowledge to help get justice for our clients. 


Susan -  RLG Substance Abuse Treatment Advocacy & Litigation Team *

Susan Ramsey is both an attorney and an RN. Ms. Ramsey’s professional experience began as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. While pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree, she was a counselor with the New Haven Rape Crisis Program. During her time with the Program, Ms. Ramsey counseled sexual assault survivors and performed seminars for local police departments, universities, and high schools. During her time working as a registered nurse, Ms. Ramsey decided to attend law school. Ms. Ramsey graduated from CUNY Law School, and has practiced law in several different State and Federal Courts.  She is a Florida Heath Care Risk Manager and a member of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force.  Ms. Ramsey is Pro Bono Counsel for the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.  Ms. Ramsey actively litigates cases involving catastrophic injuries and wrongful death on behalf of survivors, cases include injuries suffered by victims of professional negligence, product liability and medical negligence. * See RLG Blog of August 2, 2018 “The Faces of Opioid Use Disorder: My name is Susan.”