As Victims Express Feelings Outside, U.S. Supreme Court Hears Purdue Pharma Opioid Settlement Case


A woman holding two signs, one with a photo of her son, outside of the Supreme Court building in Washington Monday captured the essence of what the justices were considering inside.

One of Grace Bisch's signs said: “MY DEAD SON DOES NOT RELEASE SACKLERS.”

Members of the Sackler family, who had controlled OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, had agreed to contribute up to $6 billion to a massive legal settlement in exchange for immunity from civil lawsuits.

In 2019, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy with lawsuits mounting over its liability in the opioid crisis. About 645,000 people died from opioid overdoses, including OxyContin, in the United States between 1999 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Arguing Against the Deal

The U.S. Justice Department Trustee Program asserts that federal law doesn’t permit immunizing the Sacklers and any other third parties who did not themselves file for bankruptcy if not all creditors sign off on a legal proposal to do so. Most but not all did in the Purdue Pharma case.

“This release goes beyond what the statute authorizes,” Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Curtis Gannon argues.

Now after years of legal proceedings and negotiations, the company says its settlement plan has the support of all organized creditor groups and more than 100,000 creditors. All 50 states either support the plan or no longer oppose it, according to news reports.

The bankruptcy deal has been on hold until the Supreme Court justices’ final decision in the case known as Harrington v. Purdue Pharma L.P., which is expected by the end of June.

Under the deal’s terms, Purdue Pharma would transform into a public-benefit company to be named Knoa Pharma, which would develop and distribute opioid addiction treatments and overdose reversal medicines, while continuing to produce Purdue Pharma products, including OxyContin. The Sacklers’ contributions and other assets would be used to pay victims and fund those efforts.

The U.S. trustee’s objections are joined by a group of Canadian municipalities and Ellen Isaacs, who says she found her 32-year-old son dead on a bathroom floor after an overdose.

Isaacs’s attorneys described the Sackler releases from liability as “special protection for billionaires.”

“The Sacklers are neither honest nor unfortunate. They are not debtors,” they wrote in court filings. “Instead, they are the billionaire masterminds behind a criminal enterprise that caused a national tragedy. They must be held accountable.”

What Victims Will Get

The Justice Department says the current deal would provide opioid victims between $3,500 and $48,000. Purdue Pharma says the deal is the only major opioid settlement to provide “meaningful recoveries” to victims.

“My take is that it’s the biggest bankruptcy case to go to the Supreme Court in 30 or 40 years. It’s huge,” Anthony Casey, a law professor at the University of Chicago and director of the school’s Center on Law and Finance, told CNN.

Grace Bisch was far from alone in voicing her opinion any way she could outside the Supreme Court on Monday. Some protesters against allowing the Purdue Pharma deal to move forward chanted “Sackler money, blood money,” and others did as Bishop was doing — held signs remembering opioid victims, hoping they, too, would be noticed.

Author: Richard Pretorius