Purdue Pharma deal has left families disheartened, angry but hopeful – CBS Baltimore

(AP/WJZ) – For those who lost loved ones in the opioid crisis, ensuring 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 so they could feel their pain.

While some could get that chance — at least via video — as part of a tentative settlement reached Thursday that would also force the Sacklers to pay billions, families still feel empty, conflicted and angry. A bit of hope is also involved.

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

“I’d love to see the Sacklers bleed as much as 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 very concerned about the next generation and the next child that’s going to be lost.”

The Sacklers, whose wealth has been estimated in court filings at more than $10 billion, will keep a portion of their vast fortune and be protected from ongoing and future civil opioid lawsuits.

The deal announced Thursday, which is subject to approval by a federal bankruptcy judge, will require the Sacklers to pay up to $6 billion, including $750 million for victims and their survivors. Most of the rest will go to state and local governments to help combat the crisis. They must also relinquish ownership of their company, with the new company’s profits going towards fighting opioid addiction through treatment and education programs.

Maryland will receive at least $39.6 million from the settlement. The total amount that Maryland expects from Purdue and the Sacklers combined — an estimated $121.9 million to $132.2 million — will go toward opioid treatment and prevention, Attorney General Brian Frosh said.

“This hard-fought agreement is a tremendous win for the country. It will save lives and continue our quest for justice for all who have suffered from the epidemic that has devastated so many families and communities,” he said. “For decades, the Sacklers evaded the law and engaged in a relentless, deceptive marketing campaign that has afflicted millions of opioid addicts. We hope that today’s agreement will help make real progress against this crisis here in Maryland and across the country.”

Payments are being made to some of the survivors of the opioid crisis and relatives of those who died. But most will only get a few thousand dollars — not even enough to pay for a funeral — and many more who have not yet filed claims will be left out altogether.

“These families 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 her town in just over a year. “We have families who cannot afford to bury their children. They choose cremation because it is less expensive. They shouldn’t have to do that.”

The agreement also recommends that victims be allowed to share their grief directly with Sackler’s family members at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday via video conference.

Meyer Bishop would happily confront the Sacklers and show them a picture of their son that’s “so big they can’t look away.”

“I see that every night before I go to sleep,” she said. “I don’t even know if she would touch that. I do not think so.”

The Sacklers have been dubbed the leading villains in the country’s opioid crisis by activists, who point to their lack of remorse and longstanding efforts to protect their wealth while maintaining a lavish lifestyle. Her role in the epidemic was highlighted in Hulu’s miniseries Dopesick.

Half a million Americans have died from opioids in the past two decades, a number that includes victims of prescription pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin and illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

“Every day we lose all these people,” said Lynn Wencus of Wrentham, Massachusetts, whose son Jeff died of an overdose in 2017. “If states use the money as it should be, then we will save lives.”

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

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

In one of the most hotly contested provisions of the settlement, the Sacklers will be protected from future opioid lawsuits. Although they have not been granted immunity from criminal charges, there has been no indication that they will face any such charges.

Allowing the Sacklers to avoid further lawsuits or jail time sends a dangerous message to the pharmaceutical industry or other companies, said activists who have campaigned for crimes indicted on Purdue owners and company officials.

“What pisses me off the most is that they’re getting away with it,” said Tim Kramer of Waterford Township, Michigan. “They have more money than God, so it won’t hurt them. I would like to see her in prison, and in a regular prison, not one of those holiday prisons.”

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

“No matter what she did, no matter what I did, she wouldn’t back down,” he said. “She tried.”

Sackler’s family members never issued a clear apology, but issued a statement of regret over the OxyContin toll on Thursday.

The settlement comes more than two years after the Stamford, Connecticut-based company filed for bankruptcy while facing some 3,000 lawsuits accusing it of fueling the crisis by aggressively selling its signature pain reliever had advanced.

An earlier deal fell apart last year, but this time the Sacklers agreed to add another billion dollars 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 took OxyContin in high school, to drug overdoses in 2013 and 2017.

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

“I have a granddaughter who lost her father. No money in the world is going to bring her father back,” Fitzgerald said. “How do you tell a 10-year-old kid their dad is gone and doesn’t even understand addiction? It’s just horrific.”

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https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2022/03/04/purdue-pharma-deal-has-families-deflated-angry-but-hopeful/ Purdue Pharma deal has left families disheartened, angry but hopeful – CBS Baltimore

Jake Nichol

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