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The fate of the Sacklers’ billions of opioid victims is up to the Supreme Court

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The speed with which the court scheduled the case may reflect its awareness of the opioid problem. But legal experts say his decision is unlikely to dwell on the public health crisis. The court, they said, will focus narrowly on liability protection, an increasingly popular, if controversial, bankruptcy tactic.

“I am confident, however, that even if the opioid crisis appears nowhere in the opinion, the court must keep in mind that cities, states, and individuals are desperate for these funds. They need to know the answer to that question so they know what to do next,” said Adam Zimmerman, who teaches mass tort law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

Although many pharmaceutical companies have been sued for their role in the opioid epidemic, the Sacklers and Purdue loom large in the history of this complex, decades-old crisis. Their blockbuster drug, OxyContin, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late 1995, was a game-changer in a new market hungry for prescription painkillers. To the medical establishment that was then beginning to recognize pain as a “fifth vital sign,” long-acting OxyContin looked like a wonder drug.

Purdue became known for its lavish sales conferences, in which pain medicine doctors trained and hired by the company falsely claimed that the risk of addiction to OxyContin was extremely low. In 2007, Purdue and three of its top executives paid $634.5 million in fines and pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for misleading regulators, doctors and patients about the drug’s abuse potential. .

The steep fines have not deterred Purdue from continuing to aggressively market OxyContin.

Eventually, attention focused on the Sacklers themselves, some of whom served on Purdue’s board of trustees and made large charitable donations to medical schools and museums. In exchange, the institutions renamed the buildings in honor of the Sacklers. But as the family saga became featured in books, television series and documentaries and their notoriety grew, most removed the Sackler name from their properties and disassociated themselves from Purdue’s ownership.

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nytimes

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