For families, $6B deal with OxyContin maker is just a start

Mar 3, 2022, 11:11 PM | Updated: Mar 7, 2022, 5:38 pm
FILE — Lynn Wencus of Wrentham, Mass., holds a sign for her son Jeff along with wearing a sign sh...

FILE — Lynn Wencus of Wrentham, Mass., holds a sign for her son Jeff along with wearing a sign showing loved ones lost to OxyContin and Opioid overdoses, during a protest at Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. Wencus lost her son Jeff to a heroin overdose in 2017. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and virtually all U.S. states have agreed to a new settlement of opioid lawsuits. The deal reached Thursday, March 3, 2022, would require members of the Sackler family who own the drugmaker to pay $5.5 billion to $6 billion in cash. They also apologized. A bankruptcy judge must still approve the deal. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

For those who lost loved ones in the opioid crisis, making sure the family behind OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma paid a price was never just about money. What many wanted was a chance to confront the Sackler family face to face, to make them feel their pain.

While some may get that chance — at least by video — under a tentative settlement reached Thursday that also would force the Sacklers to pay out billions, the families still are coming away feeling empty, conflicted and angry yet again. There’s a bit of hope mixed in, too.

Nothing, though, will bring back any of the lives lost or hold the Sacklers fully accountable, in their eyes.

“I’d like to see the Sacklers bleed all they can, but the bigger picture for me is what they’re doing to clean up the mess,” said Vicki Meyer Bishop of Clarksburg, Maryland, who lost her 45-year-old son, Brian Meyer, in 2017. “We’re all so very worried about the next generation and the next child who will be lost.”

The Sacklers, whose wealth has been estimated in court filings at over $10 billion, will get to hang on to a chunk of their vast fortune and be protected from current and future civil lawsuits over opioids.

The deal, which must be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge, requires the Sacklers to pay as much as $6 billion, with $750 million for victims and their survivors. Most of the rest will go to state and local governments to fight the crisis. They also must give up ownership of their company, with the new entity’s profits going toward fighting opioid addiction through treatment and education programs.

Some of the survivors of the opioid crisis and relatives of those who died will receive payments. But most will get just a few thousand dollars — not even enough to reimburse the cost of a funeral — and many more who have not filed claims already will be shut out altogether.

“These families do need to get something,” said Beth Schmidt, who started a support group in Sykesville, Maryland, after her son Sean died in 2013, one of 13 lost in their town in little over a year. “We have families that can’t afford to bury their children. They’re choosing cremation because it’s less expensive. They shouldn’t have to do that.”

The agreement also recommends that the victims be allowed to directly share their heartache with Sackler family members by videoconference at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Meyer Bishop would love to face the Sacklers and show them a picture of her son that’s “so big they couldn’t look away.”

“It’s what I see before I fall asleep every night,” she said. “I don’t even know if that would touch them. I don’t think it would.”

The Sacklers have been cast as the leading villains in the country’s opioid crisis by activists who point to their lack of remorse and long-running efforts to shield their wealth while maintaining a lavish lifestyle. Their role in the epidemic was spotlighted in Hulu’s miniseries “Dopesick.”

A half-million Americans have died from opioids over the past two decades, a toll that includes victims of prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin and illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

“Everyday this goes on, we lose all of these people,” said Lynn Wencus, of Wrentham, Massachusetts, whose son Jeff died of an overdose in 2017. “If states use the money the way it’s supposed to be, then we will be saving lives.”

It bothers her that more money won’t end up in the hands of the families, but she also knows nothing would make up for what she and so many others have lost.

“Even if I got a billion dollars, it’s not going to bring back my son,” she said.

In one of the hardest-fought provisions in the settlement, the Sacklers will be protected from future opioid lawsuits. While they weren’t given immunity from criminal charges, there have been no indications they will face any.

Allowing the Sacklers to avoid any more lawsuits or jail time is a dangerous message to send to the pharmaceutical industry or any other business, said activists who have fought for Purdue owners and company officials to be charged with crimes.

“What makes me most angry is they’re getting away with it,” said Tim Kramer, of Waterford Township, Michigan. “They’ve got more money than God, so it’s not going to hurt them. I’d like to see them go to prison, and a regular prison, not one of those resort prisons.”

His common law wife, LeeRae Conn, was 46 when she overdosed in 2018. He found out she was addicted soon after they met a decade earlier.

“No matter what she did, no matter what I did, she couldn’t get off it,” he said. “She tried.”

Sackler family members have never unequivocally offered an apology, but on Thursday issued a statement of regret about the toll of OxyContin.

The settlement comes more than two years after the Stamford, Connecticut-based company filed for bankruptcy while facing some 3,000 lawsuits that accused it of fueling the crisis by aggressively pushing sales of its signature painkiller.

An earlier settlement fell apart last year, but this time the Sacklers agreed to add another $1 billion and accepted other terms.

“It’s money, but there’s still no accountability,” said Liz Fitzgerald, of Southington, Connecticut, who said she wanted to hear a public apology.

She lost two adult sons, who first used OxyContin in high school, to overdoses in 2013 and 2017.

“My three children have lost two brothers, and I think that a lot more needs to be done to support families because of the traumatic PTSD. They just destroyed our lives,” she said.

“I have a granddaughter who lost her dad. No money in the world is going to bring back her dad,” Fitzgerald said. “How do you tell a 10-year child that your dad’s gone and not even understanding addiction? It’s just horrific.”

___

Associated Press writers Geoff Mulvihill and Susan Haigh contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

India Hindus begin pilgrimage in Kashmir amid heavy security

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Thousands of Hindu devotees began an annual pilgrimage Thursday through mountain passes and meadows to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir amid heavy security in the Muslim-majority region. Officials say pilgrims face heightened threat of attacks from rebels fighting against Indian rule and have for the first time tagged devotees […]
24 hours ago
FILE - A man walks near an advertisement of a Kirin brand beer in Tokyo on Aug. 25, 2020.  Kirin Ho...
Associated Press

Japan’s Kirin to sell Myanmar Brewery to sanctioned partner

BANGKOK (AP) — Kirin Holdings will sell its shares in Myanmar Brewery to its joint venture partner Myanma Economic Holdings Plc., the Japanese beverage giant said in a statement Thursday. Kirin said the share buyback agreement with MEHL, a company facing sanctions by the U.S. and other Western governments, took into account its employees and […]
24 hours ago
A currency trader walks by the screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at a fo...
Associated Press

Asia stocks mixed after Wall St down, China manufacturing up

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Thursday after the U.S. economy contracted and China reported stronger factory activity. Shanghai and Hong Kong gained, while Tokyo and Seoul declined. Oil prices advanced. Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index edged down 0.1% on Wednesday after data showed the U.S. economy shrank in the first quarter […]
24 hours ago
New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins during his press conference at Parliament, Wellington, Ne...
Associated Press

New Zealand designates Proud Boys a terrorist organization

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s government has declared that American far-right groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations. The two groups join 18 others including Islamic State that have been given an official terrorist designation, making it illegal in New Zealand to fund, recruit or participate in the groups, and […]
24 hours ago
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 U.S. Cap...
Associated Press

Cheney to debate Wyoming GOP foes after Jan. 6 hearings

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Liz Cheney is returning to Wyoming after a busy week of hearing public testimony before the House Jan. 6 committee to debate Republican primary challengers including Harriet Hageman, her Donald Trump-endorsed opponent. Cheney will likely draw criticism in Thursday’s televised debate for investigating the former president’s effort to overturn the 2020 […]
24 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Arizona Department of Health Services

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
For families, $6B deal with OxyContin maker is just a start