In an unusual hearing Thursday, a U.S. bankruptcy court in White Plains, New York allowed victims of the U.S. opioid crisis to virtually confront members of the Sackler family – owners of Purdue Pharma, maker of the Oxycontin painkiller that fueled that crisis.
The emotional two-hour court hearing stemmed from a $6 billion settlement reached last week among the Sacklers and state attorneys general that could resolve claims over the family's role in the crisis without taking them to trial.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain established the emotional virtual hearing after giving initial approval to the settlement Wednesday.
Opening the hearing Thursday, Drain called the proceedings “unique and important.” He said the ongoing effects of OxyContin on individuals “has always been of critical importance in this case.”
The 26 speakers came from 19 states and were chosen by the official committee that represents creditors in Purdue's bankruptcy, including the thousands of people who filed personal injury claims against Purdue Pharma. Drain said the Sacklers and others would not be given a chance to respond to the victims’ statements.
Richard Sackler, former Purdue Pharma president and board chair, listened over the phone. David Sackler, Richard Sackler’s son, and Theresa Sackler, wife of a Sackler brother, appeared on video.
The victims came from all walks of life, and their stories of loss included struggles with personal addiction and the deaths of family members through overdose and suicide. One victim, Ryan Hampton, told Richard Sackler, “You got rich off our dead bodies and told us it was our own fault for dying.”
Purdue Pharma allegedly downplayed the addiction risks of its OxyContin painkiller, helping to fuel a health care crisis that has claimed 500,000 overdose deaths over two decades.
Members of the Sackler family have denied wrongdoing. They said last week in a statement that they "sincerely regret" that OxyContin "unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis.”
Under the terms of the settlement, along with the monetary payments, family members are to give up ownership of the company so it could become a new entity with its profits dedicated to stemming the epidemic. In exchange, Sackler family members would get protection from civil lawsuits over opioids.
Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, and Reuters.