The Department of Justice (DOJ) moved on Wednesday to block Purdue Pharma’s controversial bankruptcy deal that shields members of the Sackler family from being sued in future opioid-related lawsuits.
U.S Trustee for the DOJ William Harrington filed a request for an expedited stay to prevent the OxyContin-maker’s agreement that a federal judge signed off on earlier this month from going into effect. The DOJ throughout Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy has blasted the settlement as “unlawful” and “unconstitutional.”
Through the deal in question, members of the Sackler family would give up ownership of Purdue Pharma and supply more than $4 billion in cash and charitable assets over nine years. The company’s assets would be sent to a new company focused on fighting opioid addiction.
In exchange, the family members would avoid admitting wrongdoing and be granted immunity against future legal claims.
Harrington had previously argued in other court documents that the agreement allows members of the Sackler family to dodge accountability for “alleged wrongdoing in concocting and perpetuating for profit one of the most severe public health crises ever experienced in the United States.”
The Sackler family itself has not filed for bankruptcy.
In a statement, Purdue Pharma said it understands the views of those against the deal “are deeply held,” but emphasized that 95 percent of the company’s creditors and 43 states and territories support the plan as “the best option for people and communities suffering from the opioid crisis.”
“Now is the time for the remaining objectors to join the overwhelming majority of creditors so that billions of dollars can begin to flow as quickly as possible,” the company said.
Purdue Pharma initially filed for bankruptcy two years ago to try to settle thousands of lawsuits from states, tribes and other local governments accusing the OxyContin-maker of fueling the opioid epidemic with its marketing tactics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2019.
Members of the Sackler family have repeatedly denied wrongdoing or unethical practices, despite earning millions from their company’s opioid. The company has previously pleaded guilty twice to federal crimes associated with its marketing of OxyContin.
Most state attorneys general have backed the settlement, saying it will lessen ongoing legal battles and allow funding to get to opioid treatment programs more quickly.
But attorneys general for nine states and D.C. spoke out against the agreement, saying it violates the constitutional rights of those with opioid-related lawsuits from challenging the family in court.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine have also appealed the settlement, arguing that it lets members of the Sackler family avoid responsibility.
Judge Robert Drain, who approved the bankruptcy plan on Sept. 1, had said he wishes “the plan had provided more, but I will not jeopardize what the plan does provide.”