The Supreme Court on Monday, December 4, 2023, appeared divided over whether the Sackler family, which made its multi-billion dollar fortune selling OxyContin, the drug that fueled the nation's opioid epidemic, could be shielded from civil lawsuits by paying $6 billion to victims and drug treatment programs as part of a bankruptcy settlement with the company it once ran. The High Court is being asked to decide a question related to bankruptcy law, but just below the surface is the wrenching debate over how much to punish the Sacklers for their role in the crisis -- and whether blowing up the current settlement might jeopardize any payout for tens of thousands of victims and their families.
The vast majority of victims support the settlement with Purdue Pharma, not because they wish to let the Sackler family off the hook, but because they need financial assistance and they need it now or because they need to turn the page on the tragic losses they have suffered and dragging this matter on for years will not be beneficial emotionally.
"The opioids victims and their families overwhelmingly approve of this plan because they think it will ensure prompt payment," Justice Brett Kavanaugh said. But compare his comments to those of Justice Gorsuch. "We don't normally say that a non-consenting party can have its claim...eliminated in this fashion without consent" or court review, Gorsuch said. "This would defy what we do" in other contexts, he said, and would "raise serious due process concerns."
The real issue here is that the Sackler family, who unquestionably engaged in a complete and utter reckless disregard for the well-being of every patient prescribed OxyContin, while pocketing billions of dollars and living ridiculously lavish lifestyles, has escaped criminal liability for its outrageous conduct. The victims are being held hostage by a family, most of whom should be in federal prison, because if the Sacklers don't have their personal liability going forward extinguished beyond what they have already agreed to pay, the deal could well fall apart. Where sophisticated billionaire fraudsters can act in this manner, yet still avoid prison, there is a disincentive on their part to ever reign in the greed that motivates them.