The opioid crisis has held the United States in a death grip for two decades and claims 130 lives every day. A completely preventable epidemic, the crisis was started by greedy pharmaceutical companies, particularly Purdue Pharma, which encouraged over-prescribing these dangerous drugs. Now, the heartless money-grabbers who knowingly started a deadly disaster that has killed over 200,000 people will get away with only a slap on the wrist.
Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, recently filed for bankruptcy over multiple lawsuits from local and state governments. Over 2,000 states and cities rightfully accused the company of inflaming the opioid crisis. According to NPR, Purdue was prosecuted for charges such as “racketeering and conspiracy, misleading doctors, insurance companies and government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.” Yet the lawsuits remain in civil courts, and none of the executives will face criminal charges or harsher punishment than fines.
The company’s executives and the Sackler family, who owns Purdue Pharma, are directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. By pushing for the dissemination of opioids, even after knowing about the addictive nature of the substance, the Sacklers proved they are no better than illegal street-level drug dealers. Due to the lies they upheld for years, their failure to take responsibility sooner and their overall blatant disregard for human life, the Sacklers should be on trial in criminal courts.
Evidence suggests the Sacklers knew about the addictiveness of Oxycontin and still used lucrative means to distribute the drug. Richard Sackler was found to have bullied sales representatives to rack up profits, directed the targeting of vulnerable patients, lied outright about the substance’s addictiveness and encouraged doctors to prescribe the medication in higher doses. Not only did the Sacklers conduct these nefarious acts, but they knew what they were doing was wrong and attempted to hide their money from government scrutiny. The family participated in 137 wire transfers that hid millions of dollars from being recognized as theirs.
Though the Sacklers had nearly two decades to own up to their crimes, they remained silent and continued to funnel billions of dollars into their pockets — billions that could have helped end the opioid crisis. Only when the number of lawsuits from around the country became too high to ignore did the family finally agreed to a tentative deal which will require the company to pay between $10 and $12 billion in settlements, including $3 billion from the Sackler’s personal wealth. However, for a family whose net worth was $13 billion in 2016, this will barely put a dent in their finances. Yet, the family still requested to have special protections put on their fortune in their bankruptcy plan. Purdue asked Judge Robert D. Drain to temporarily halt personal lawsuits against eight Sacklers and threatened to back out of the deal if denied. Essentially, the family refuses to pay settlements to fix what they started unless they are protected from being individually sued.
While some states and their attorneys are fine with the Sacklers getting away with just the settlement, other states want to take the case further in court. According to the Washington Post, North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, stated he was okay with granting the Sacklers the extra protection as long as they pay “to right the wrongs that they have done.” However, certain large states, such as New York and Massachusetts, who will not be paid in the settlement, would rather take the company to a higher court. These states have the right idea. America doesn’t just need money thrown at this devastating crisis; the families of victims need to see that the Sacklers are justly punished for the crimes.
The punishment against the vile Sacklers is already too light — while the family will have to give up control of Purdue, they are not obligated to take any blame for the opioid crisis. Now the family is on the verge of paying their way out of their crimes and escaping with billions still left to their name. But no matter how much they pay, nothing will ever bring back the numerous Americans who died of overdose. No matter what is done to help the crisis in the future, nothing will heal the loss felt by the victims’ loved ones. It is time for the Justice Department to recognize the Sacklers as the murderers they are and try them in a criminal court.