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Opinion | Betraying the Victims of the Opioid Crisis

Victims deserved better — and they deserved more. And they did not deserve to have the Sackler family shielded from any civil litigation.

The family has denied any wrongdoing.

Several options could have been considered that would have distributed equitable financial compensation to those harmed by Purdue, without utilizing the contentious third-party releases.

Every state in the nation had a claim against Purdue, totaling more than $2 trillion. For 22 months, nearly half of the states, known as the nonconsenting states, opposed any deal that would release the Sackler family from future lawsuits. They preferred to remove them from the Purdue bankruptcy, stamp out their third-party releases and take the family to court separately in different jurisdictions — an outcome I would have supported, as long as the victims’ $750 million or so would be protected. In July, 15 of the original 24 nonconsenting states, a strong majority, signed onto the deal that included the Sacklers, essentially eliminating any reasonable option that would have compensated victims without the family’s money.

During negotiations, I often asked: Why couldn’t we just eliminate the nonbankrupt Sacklers from the process? I believe this would have allowed litigation against them to resume. It also would have allowed victims to be compensated entirely from the new, restructured company — the same funding source from which states were set to receive the majority of their settlement. To this day, my question remains unanswered. In my opinion, this option would have eradicated the releases issue, protected compensation for victims and given states and victims the opportunity to have their day in court with the Sacklers, with the potential to recover more Sackler money through individual lawsuits.

Since resigning from the committee on Aug. 31, I am able to speak more freely about my experience. My view on the final chapter of Purdue is that money, not justice, won the day. Victims’ representatives were outnumbered in the process from the beginning: by corporations, by lawyers and by governments.

Many government institutions, previously unwilling to act as a watchdog on Big Pharma, were equally unwilling to treat some of our most vulnerable citizens with the dignity they deserved. Rising overdose rates, difficulty in accessing addiction treatment and recovery support services, lax enforcement of parity violations by insurance companies and government crackdowns on people who use drugs tell you all you need to know about the effectiveness of the status quo.

Companies like Purdue and families like the Sacklers should never find refuge in bankruptcy court. Nonconsensual third-party releases must be harder to obtain in Chapter 11 cases. And in cases where tremendous harm has been done to actual people, individual victim claims should be at the top of the pyramid — not at the bottom. Government claims should never outsize those of victims, but that is exactly the case in the injustice of the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy.

I entered this process hoping for reparations. Now, I can only pray for reform.

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