'A bitter result': Judge approves Purdue's $4.5B opioid settlement that protects Sackler family from future lawsuits

In U.S. bankruptcy court on Wednesday, Judge Robert Drain spelled out the word that summed up his approval of a $4.5 billion settlement that protects owners of Purdue Pharma from future opioid litigation.

“This is a bitter result, B-I-T-T-E-R,” the judge said in explaining his regret that the Sackler family will still keep much of the windfall it accumulated as the company aggressively marketed the painkiller OxyContin while minimizing its addictive power, contributing to an opioid epidemic which has killed more than 500,000 in the United States.

Noting that much of their fortune is protected in offshore accounts, the judge voiced his frustration that the settlement wasn’t tougher, The New York Times reports. The family will remain among the richest in the country.

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As part of the deal, Purdue will transform into a public benefit company mostly focused on addiction treatments and prevention—with no ties to the Sacklers. The Sacklers will pay their $4.5 billion settlement over nine years, with much of it funding treatment and prevention of opioid abuse.

“While we dispute the allegations that have been made about our family, we have embraced this path in order to help combat a serious and complex public health crisis,” the Sackler family said in a statement, while noting that the settlement involves “neither a finding of wrongdoing nor an admission of liability.”

Judge Drain also was dissatisfied with the company’s lack of culpability.

“A forced apology is not really an apology, so we will have to live without one,” the judge told the court.

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In response to the news, Connecticut said it would appeal. Other states, including Washington, plan join the appeal effort.

“Our bankruptcy system is broken,” Connecticut attorney general William Tong said in a statement. “Connecticut is prepared to appeal, and we are weighing all viable options to preserve our claims against the Sacklers. The Sacklers are not bankrupt, and they should not be allowed to manipulate bankruptcy laws to evade justice and protect their blood money.”

While the Sacklers will be spared the revelations that could emerge from a public trial, one condition of the settlement is that Purdue will have to turn over more than 30 million documents, including confidential emails.

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In addition to payments to governments, the settlement fund will compensate 130,485 individuals and families who were victims of the opioid epidemic with sums ranging from $3,500 to $48,000.  

“No amount of money will ever make up for the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives, the millions who became addicted, or the countless families torn apart by this crisis, but these funds will be used to prevent future death and destruction as a result of the opioid epidemic,” New York attorney general Letitia James said in a statement.

Purdue is one of several companies that have resolved opioid cases in recent months. In July, Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, agreed to a $26 billion settlement to shield them from future litigation. That deal hasn't been finalized.

"This resolution is an important step toward providing substantial resources for people and communities in need, and it is our hope these funds will help achieve that goal," the Sackler family said.