A MARTINEZ, HOST:
In a landmark ruling Wednesday, a federal bankruptcy judge in New York granted immunity from opioid lawsuits to members of the Sackler family. They're the owners of Purdue Pharma. Under the settlement approved by Judge Robert Grain (ph), the Sacklers will pay more than $4 billion.
NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann joins us. Brian, this company has been at the center of a devastating addiction epidemic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, and now the company's owners get to walk away. What did Judge Drain say about that?
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: First, A, it was fascinating. He spoke for six hours in this ruling. Judge Drain described this outcome as bitter and complained that the Sacklers never offered an apology. He said the family should've paid more money. But then Drain pivoted and said in the end, this was the best deal negotiators could get. Under terms of the plan, the Sacklers will pay roughly $4.3 billion, with much of the money going to help people and communities in this opioid epidemic. They'll give up control of Purdue Pharma, but they'll admit no wrongdoing, and they'll receive this protection from lawsuits. The Sacklers will remain one of the wealthiest families in the country.
MARTINEZ: What are victims of the opioid epidemic saying?
MANN: So there's this real divide. I spoke with Cheryl Juaire, who lost both of her sons to fatal drug overdoses. And Juaire then served on one of the committees that negotiated this bankruptcy settlement, and she supports it. She thinks money from this settlement will help keep people with opioid addiction alive.
CHERYL JUAIRE: Every day wasted, another 250 people die, and so we don't have any time to spare. So I know how badly we need to get that money out there. This plan will deliver billions of dollars to communities in need. All the money in the world is not going to bring my children back, but it might save someone else's.
MANN: And this is something I've heard government leaders who support this plan say. They don't like the fact that the Sacklers will avoid opioid lawsuits, but they believe this money that will fund addiction treatment programs - they think it's desperately needed.
MARTINEZ: You also found many victims of OxyContin who are not comfortable with this settlement. What do they tell you?
MANN: Yeah, a lot of people who experience opioid addiction face really serious penalties in our society. You know, they get arrested, prosecuted. Sometimes they're sent to prison for possessing or selling even relatively small quantities of opioids. And they point out that Purdue Pharma, this company, has pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges repeatedly. The Sacklers earned billions of dollars from the company, but no members of the family have ever faced criminal charges or admitted wrongdoing. And I spoke about this with Ryan Hampton, who himself became addicted to OxyContin. He overdosed repeatedly. He says he has really lost faith in the legal system.
RYAN HAMPTON: Purdue, for a very long time, you know, was - it was a huge part of just the destruction of my life early on. You know, I also entered this case two years ago hoping for justice. But I can say coming out of this, I have more grief than I did going into it because I feel meaningful justice - it just doesn't exist.
MANN: And I should say that Hampton also served on one of the committees that helped negotiate this bankruptcy deal with Purdue Pharma. He resigned this week in protest because of the way the settlement turned out.
MARTINEZ: OK. Judge Drain issued his ruling confirming this plan. Is it now final?
MANN: Not yet. The state of Washington, one of nine states that oppose the settlement, has already filed an appeal. That happened last night. The U.S. Justice Department has also said giving immunity from opioid lawsuits to the Sacklers is unacceptable, so the DOJ is also considering an appeal. So, A, at this moment, the settlement is on hold. None of the money for those treatment programs will start to flow until this legal challenge is resolved, and legal experts say that'll take months.
MARTINEZ: You mention how the Sacklers have not apologized. Have they said anything?
MANN: Yeah, they sent statements to NPR last night saying they believe money from this settlement will help communities heal from this opioid epidemic. They, again, denied any wrongdoing. I should add that Purdue Pharma, the company, will now be reorganized as a public trust separate from the Sacklers. The firm will keep producing OxyContin, but now profits will go to help fund addiction treatment programs.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR's addiction correspondent Brian Mann. Brian, thanks.
MANN: Thank you, A.
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