The Family That Created the Opioid Epidemic Wants Legal Immunity

The Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma became incredibly rich off of America’s opioid crisis. Now, they are trying to shield themselves from the punishment for creating that crisis.

Members of the Sackler family are asking a federal court to grant sweeping legal immunity to their family and to more than a thousand adjacent parties. (Olga Delawrence / Unsplash)

The billionaires that made their fortune off opioids are asking a federal court to grant sweeping legal immunity to their family and to more than a thousand parties linked to the family and the scandal, including one of their companies peddling opioids across the globe, according to new court records reviewed by the Daily Poster.

If the court blesses the requested releases — and if Congress does not quickly pass pending legislation to halt such immunity — government officials would be prevented from bringing opioid-related lawsuits against not only Sackler family members and their businesses, but also against the Sacklers’ army of lawyers, family trusts, foundations, investors, film companies, and even other pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell opioids.

The immunity request was filed by lawyers for Purdue Pharma on Wednesday as part of a larger disclosure in the opioid giant’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. Members of the Sackler family are seeking the liability shields in exchange for contributing more than $4 billion to a bankruptcy settlement. Their company, Purdue, represented a 16 percent share of the opioid market according to ProPublica and Stat News — and a federal study released last month found that the public health cost of the opioid epidemic was $1 trillion in 2017 alone.

Opioid crisis response advocacy group Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.) called the requested immunity “evidence of [the Sackler] pharmaceutical empire’s sheer power” in a statement provided to the Daily Poster.

“Just as in Purdue’s 2007 federal case, the Sackler family will likely get away without admitting any wrongdoing,” the statement read. “With a legal army at their disposal, they’re using Purdue’s bankruptcy as a shield to turn the tables on hundreds of thousands of personal injury claimants…. The Sackler family deserves to be prosecuted, and their billions belong to the individuals and communities they’ve destroyed.”

Some federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent the Sacklers from obtaining releases from liability suits related to the opioid crisis they helped cause. Pharmaceutical giants including Johnson & Johnson, which supplied the poppies for Purdue’s OxyContin pills, have been lobbying on the bill, which has so far not advanced in the Democratic Congress.

Now, new court documents show just how expansive the Sacklers would like the third-party waivers to be.

A new amended disclosure statement filed by Purdue Pharma in its bankruptcy case reveals that the Sacklers are seeking third-party liability waivers for a number of entities beyond the immediate family. Attached as an appendix, the list is twenty-four pages long and includes all members of the Sackler family; 162 trusts, trustees, and protectors; thirteen Purdue parent entities; and 173 associated companies.

One of those companies is Purdue’s international subsidiary, Mundipharma, which the Sacklers agreed to sell to contribute to the bankruptcy fund.

Mundipharma came under fire for using the same aggressive and misleading tactics Purdue had been forced to abandon in the United States after overdose deaths skyrocketed, prescriptions dropped off, and lawsuits mounted.

In countries like Brazil and China, Mundipharma held seminars to help doctors overcome “opiophobia” and pitched Oxycontin as a less addictive alternative to other opioid painkillers.

According to a 2019 report from the Associated Press, in China, the company’s sales representatives illegally copied patient medical records without consent and visited them in the hospital disguised as doctors. The AP report noted that at the time, keeping control of Mundipharma was a goal of the Sacklers, because it allowed them to continue cashing in on Oxycontin globally.

The bankruptcy case could also lead to liability protection for opioid manufacturers Napp Pharmaceuticals and Qdem Pharmaceuticals, which market generic oxycodone in the UK.

Other companies that would be released from liability include:

• Bracewell LLP, which used to be known as Bracewell & Giuliani. Purdue hired the firm when it was facing a federal investigation in the 2000s. While Purdue pleaded guilty to a felony in 2007, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani helped secure a deal that allowed the company to keep doing business with the federal government and prevented the firm’s executives from going to prison.

• Luther Strange & Associates, a law firm created by Luther Strange, Alabama’s former Republican attorney general and temporary US senator. After he lost his bid for Senate in 2017, Strange started working for members of the Sackler family. In 2019, Strange represented the Sacklers at an event held by the Republican Attorneys General Association, and tried to convince the state attorneys general to accept Purdue’s bankruptcy plan.

• Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, a prestigious law firm that has worked for Richard Sackler, who helped push doctors to prescribe OxyContin, and other members of the Sackler family.

• Investment firms like Paloma Partners, Silver Point Capital, and Alexander Road Capital. Paloma Partners is a Connecticut-based hedge fund founded by Democratic mega-donor Donald Sussman.

View the new Purdue court filing here.