The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that they had reached an $8 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma and the members of the Sackler family who control it, for both criminal and civil allegations related to their roles in the opioid epidemic that has killed around a half a million Americans over the last two decades.
As part of the agreement, Purdue, the company, will plead guilty and admit to felony charges that it pushed OxyContin and other opioid products to doctors it knew were siphoning off the medicine, and paid kickbacks to doctors to write more prescriptions for opioids.
According to a release from the DOJ, the agreement would force Purdue to turn into a "public benefit company" run by a trust, to "deliver legitimate prescription drugs in a manner as safe as possible," provide overdose rescue drugs, and put its profits toward local opioid abatement programs.
The members of the Sackler family named in the settlement who were Purdue's shareholders—Dr. Richard Sackler, David Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Dr. Kathe Sackler, and Jonathan Sackler—did not admit any wrongdoing, but settled civil claims for $225 million.
Forbes has pegged the Sackler family's worth at $13 billion. In bankruptcy filings, it was revealed that the Sacklers took $10 billion out of the company for themselves during the height of the opioid epidemic, from 2008 to 2017.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen was repeatedly asked why the Sacklers were allowed to keep a large portion of their reported fortune, given that much of it came directly from Purdue.
"So, I think that's not the right way to look at this," Rosen said. "I think it's wrong to say that anybody was, quote, 'allowed to keep things.' The resolution here is very significant."
Rosen added, "They lost control and ownership of a company that was worth very significant amounts of money. They will have no future involvement with that company if the bankruptcy court approves this resolution."
Asked why the DOJ didn't pursue criminal charges against the Sacklers, Rosen replied that the settlement agreement doesn't preclude them from doing so later on, and doesn't prevent individual states from filing any charges.
"I'm gonna stick to the terms of the resolution here, which are civil, and do not contain releases of any other kinds of liability," Rosen said of the Sacklers.
Steve Miller, the chairman of Purdue’s board, said in a statement, “Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice in the agreed statement of facts."
In a statement, the Sackler family members insisted that they "acted ethically and lawfully, and the upcoming release of company documents will prove that fact in detail. This history of Purdue will also demonstrate that all financial distributions were proper."
"We reached today’s agreement in order to facilitate a global resolution that directs substantial funding to communities in need, rather than to years of legal proceedings," the statement continues. "We have deep compassion for people who suffer from opioid addiction and abuse and hope the proposal will be implemented as swiftly as possible to help address their critical needs."
Last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim Museum were some of the cultural institutions that said they would no longer accept donations from the Sacklers after groups like PAIN Sackler held rallies to protest the family's philanthropy. As news of the settlement leaked in recent weeks, the group wrote a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr, asking for a meeting, and declaring that the settlement terms "betray the thousands of victims of the opioid epidemic."
The settlement must still be approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, and the bankruptcy proceedings—which began after more than 2,600 lawsuits were filed against Purdue—will continue. The settlement announced on Wednesday does not stop states attorneys general from pursuing cases against Purdue and the Sacklers. In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said that her office would continue to pursue the litigation they filed in the spring of 2019.
"Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. Instead, it allows billionaires to keep their billions without any accounting for how much they really made," James said. While no amount of money can ever compensate the pain that so many now know, we will continue to litigate our case through the courts to secure every cent we can to limit future opioid addictions."