Arizona sues Sackler family at Supreme Court, alleging effort to avoid payouts over opioid crisis

Arizona sues Sackler family at Supreme Court, alleging effort to avoid payouts over opioid crisis
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The state of Arizona has taken the highly unusual move of filing a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, asking the justices to order the Sackler family — the owners of Purdue Pharma — to return billions of dollars in connection with their handling of the opioid epidemic.

Arizona officials are alleging the family transferred the money from their company in order to prevent paying potential judgements over their alleged role in the crisis, in the process violating a 2007 legal agreement made with the state. The state says the family “reaped profits through misleading marketing tactics.”

“The State brings this action because it has evidence that the Sacklers, Purdue, and the other Defendants were parties in recent years to massive cash transfers—totaling billions of dollars—at a time when Purdue faced enormous exposure for its role in fueling the opioids crisis,” the complaint states.

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“These transfers threaten the ability of Purdue to satisfy any relief the State may obtain in its pending proceeding against Purdue. The State therefore brings this action to hold the Defendants accountable for their attempts to loot Purdue, and to ensure that the people of Arizona can obtain adequate relief for the devastation that the Sacklers and Purdue have wrought in this state,” it states.

The Sackler family has faced intense scrutiny for their company’s alleged role in the opioid epidemic, which has affected millions of Americans. Purdue Pharma is behind the opioid painkiller OxyContin.

Gregory P. Joseph, a lawyer for the family, declined to comment. Representatives for the family did not immediately return The Hill’s request for comment

The New York Times first reported on the complaint.

Filing a lawsuit directly to the Supreme Court is highly unusual move, but it’s not unheard of: The justices will first have to agree to allow the complaint to be filed there before the case could move forward.

The lawsuit is being filed under Article III of the Constitution, which states that the high court can rule on cases “between a state and citizens of another state.”

"This is an urgent situation requiring the type of expeditious resolution that only the Supreme Court can provide," Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement. "The clarity of the high court’s ruling and the authority to enforce the judgment throughout the country and internationally will be the most effective path to addressing an issue of this magnitude."

Arizona authorities are alleging that the fund transfers were made as the Sackler family was aware that it was facing legal action in relation to the opioid epidemic. They claim the transfers violated fraudulent transfer laws, which opens the door for a court order requiring the money to be returned.

If the Supreme Court were to rule in Arizona’s favor, it could open the door to other parties to accessing those allegedly transferred funds.

“It is unconscionable that companies responsible for fueling this crisis might escape paying restitution to victims by transferring billions of dollars made on opioid sales to company owners and then possibly filing for bankruptcy,” Brnovich said. 

“Those responsible for the opioid crisis must be held accountable and the Sacklers’ pilfering of Purdue’s assets must be remedied," he said.

New Jersey also sued the Sackler family in May over their alleged role in the epidemic.

A spokesperson for the family said at the time that the lawsuit was “baseless” and “another misguided attempt to place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis.”

A Massachusetts lawsuit also alleges that the family oversaw years of efforts to misdirect both doctors and patients about the dangers stemming from OxyContin use.