In pleading guilty to a wide range of federal crimes, the company at the center of the nation’s long-running opioid crisis publicly acknowledged wronging and agreed to a multi-billion-dollar settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
But Maryland leaders said the agreement fails to adequately cover the harm that was done to Americans over the last 20 years.
Purdue Pharma’s settlement with DOJ will result in penalties of $8.3 billion, the department said on Wednesday. In addition, the company’s owners, members of the Sackler family, have agreed to pay $225 million in civil penalties.
The maker of OxyContin acknowledged that its deceptive marketing practices and other actions played a central role in the use of highly addictive painkillers that have killed more than 450,000 Americans over the last two decades.
While the settlement with the government was touted as one of the largest of its kind, two Maryland Democrats said it falls short.
“Purdue Pharma’s guilty pleas to federal charges acknowledge some of the unlawful conduct through which Purdue has inflicted untold harm upon the public,” said Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D).
“The federal government’s settlement, however, fails to hold the Sacklers accountable for their actions and falls short of providing the justice and relief needed from the decades of misconduct by Purdue and the Sacklers that state attorneys general have been pursuing,” Frosh continued. “Justice against the Sacklers and Purdue, and relief for the public from the opioid crisis, will require substantially more work. My office will continue to work to hold the Sacklers and Purdue accountable for their egregious behavior.”
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) said the Sackler family made billions off the sale of OxyContin, making the proposed fine, which is subject to court approval, a relative drop in the bucket.
“We need transparency and accountability, and the Department of Justice has given us no confidence that this is the best deal they could get from a family that is responsible for ending hundreds of thousands of American lives,” Trone said.
“At the end of the day, the Sacklers will be a little less rich and more than 70,000 people will still die this year due an addiction epidemic Purdue Pharma just admitted they helped start.”
Maryland will eventually get a slice of the company’s settlement with the federal government, but the amount has yet to be determined.
The money that Maryland ultimately receives from litigation against the opioid manufacturers will be allocated to the state’s Opioid Restitution Fund. This fund is modeled on the Cigarette Restitution Fund, which was established after the federal government’s settlement with the tobacco industry in the 1990’s.
Trone has been active in fighting addiction since joining the Congress in 2019.
In an interview, he noted that many small-time drug users and dealers — many of them low-income people of color — have spent more time behind bars than any of the Sacklers ever will.
“My nephew, who was addicted and died of fentanyl, he was arrested and served time in jail for marijuana possession,” the lawmaker said. “Not a great deal. A small amount. …The Sacklers, from what we understand from this plea bargain, will never serve a day in jail. All they’re doing is having a few less billion than they already have. That doesn’t pass the fairness test.”
He and others expressed doubt that the government will see most of the $8.3 billion because of the numerous legal challenges Purdue and the Sacklers face ― and their moves to protect that fortune.
“They equity-stripped the company… and they paid it out to themselves,” Trone said. “They took it off-shore, bankrupting the company and saying there’s nothing left. Well of course there’s nothing left, you took it all. So if you took it all, there’s a lot left. And we should have access to that.”
Trone said the country needs a radically different approach to pain management, addiction and law enforcement.
“Addiction is not a crime, it’s a disease,” he said. “We’re not addressing the root cause of this disease by locking up America.”
(Disclosure: The David and June Trone Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Maryland Matters.)