Reflections on the Opioid Epidemic

Late this October, in Ohio, a jury will begin hearing evidence against the pharmaceutical giants that have manufactured — and profited royally from — the opioid epidemic.

This Ohio trial will be the most significant courtroom skirmish yet between Big Pharma and the over 2,000 states, localities, and other complainants that have filed suit against America’s biggest corporate pill pushers. Opioid overdoses have left over 400,000 dead since the late 1990s.

The federal judge overseeing the consolidated lawsuits against Big Pharma would rather not see this trial happen. He’d like to see the parties come to some sort of pre-trial settlement, and this past Tuesday brought the first sign of serious movement on the settlement front. A press leak has revealed that a deal with Purdue Pharma — the corporation that ignited the opioid epidemic — may be in the offing.

That deal, according to press reports, would have the Sackler family —  the clan behind Purdue Pharma — turn over to states and localities some $3 billion. These billions would come directly out of the Sackler family private personal fortune. Up to $9 billion more would come from Purdue Pharma as a corporate entity.

None of this, of course, may actually happen. In fact, some fear that the news leak might scuttle the talks and prevent any deal’s completion. But if this particular deal should go through, would that be cause for celebration? Or just represent another end run around justice for Corporate America?

The Sacklers would certainly have cause for celebration. They would gain peace of mind — protection from future lawsuits — at a relatively affordable price. This past March, the Bloomberg Billionaire Index conservatively estimated their combined personal and corporate fortune at $13 billion. The personal and corporate payout the leaked deal envisions would leave the Sacklers, Bloomberg calculates, with at least $1.5 billion in their personal portfolios.

And — special bonus — not one Sackler would have to spend time in a prison cell.

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