Guest Editorials, Opinion

Opioid peddlers like Purdue don’t deserve a free pass

Those responsible for the scourge of opioid addiction that has torn through communities in Washington and across the nation must be held accountable.

Anyone who knowingly contributed to this irresponsible distribution should face consequences, not get a free pass.

But that’s exactly what a proposed bankruptcy settlement would offer OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, its wealthy owners and associates. Those seeking compensation and reparations for deaths and injuries have until July 14 to decide whether to vote for the plan, approved by a federal bankruptcy judge last week. They should decline.

Under the 499-page proposal, the Sackler family would give up control of the company and pay $4.5 billion to fund opioid treatment and mitigation over nearly a decade. But the money comes at too high a price: blanket immunity for dozens of Sackler family members, including company owners and board directors, and hundreds of companies, trusts, consultants and other associates, for the harm caused when communities were flooded with their addictive medications.

Last fall, the company pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of facilitating the prescription of Purdue’s extended release opioid products — OxyContin, Butrans and Hysingla — without a legitimate medical purpose and violating federal kickback law. Sackler family members maintain they personally did nothing wrong. If so, they should welcome the opportunity to prove their innocence, not search for a way to essentially buy their way out of trouble — no less in a specialized court that usually focuses not on injury and damages, but on brokering deals between creditors and debtors that can’t pay their bills.

This exceptionally complicated bankruptcy has always been about more than money. Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2019, in part, to head off thousands of civil lawsuits and cases filed by two dozen states’ attorneys general.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is disappointed. “I filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma to hold the company accountable for its role fueling the opioid epidemic,” he said by email after the judge’s approval. “That accountability must include the Sackler family, who made billions of dollars while Washington families suffered.

“A legal shield denies Washingtonians the accountability that survivors and families deserve.”

No court proceeding can erase the heartbreak of the nation’s prescription opioid epidemic or bring back the parents, children, neighbors and other loved ones lost. But preventing civil lawsuits that would seek the truth about who bears responsibility for this death and destruction just deepens the pain.

This editorial  first appeared in The Seattle Times on Thursday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.