By Ben Robinson
On September 1, the Sackler family was ordered to pay a $4.5 billion fine and give up ownership of Purdue Pharma to avoid liability for the opioid epidemic. The dissolution was part of a larger settlement to end thousands of lawsuits against the pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, which is estimated to have killed over 500,000 people by pushing the opioid drug, OxyContin.
OxyContin, intended as a painkiller, is prescribed to millions of people despite its highly addictive nature. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 49,860 people died of opioid overdose in 2019 alone, with actual numbers likely being higher. Motivated by profit, Purdue and the Sackler family marketed the drug and pushed its prescription for longer periods and in higher doses, despite knowing of the risk of addiction. It was estimated that in 2017, the drug made $35 billion for Purdue, which more than covered the $4.5 billion in fines levied against Sacklers for their role in the ongoing opioid crisis.
In the lawsuit, the Sackler family is to pay the fines while receiving protection from any further litigation for their role in the epidemic. They have seven years to pay this amount, allowing them to keep investing the money they owe until then, with one group of attorneys estimating they could raise their net worth from $10.7 to $14 billion by 2030.
Separate from the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma will pay installments of $500 million as part of the settlement and be restructured as a “public benefit corporation.” A portion of the profits that this new corporation makes from the sale of drugs, including Oxycontin as well as the drugs used to treat opioid addiction, will be used to fund public programs meant to combat addiction. Purdue can afford to rebrand itself and continue to profit off of the opioid epidemic even while claiming to fight it.
Most of the money from the lawsuit will also go to these public programs meant to combat addiction, with only 130,485 payments ranging of $3,500 to $48,000 going to families who lost members to addiction or overdose, a pittance when compared with the profits made from OxyContin’s sale and the number of people affected.
The Sackler family has been forced to leave the opioid industry, but the industry itself remains. Government-controlled public programs cannot fix the drug crisis because they will not address the root of the problem—capitalism—which puts profit above public health and uses drugs as a tool to subdue the people. People are pushed, whether by drug companies or not, into addiction to escape the alienating conditions of life under capitalism. The drug crisis can never be stopped by companies that make money off of it and a government that uses it to oppress the people.
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