After two years as a representative of OxyContin’s victims in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy, I’m finally breaking my silence. I served as a co-chair of the Unsecured Creditors Committee inside the case, appointed by the DOJ. I was supposed to advocate for the people who were harmed by Purdue’s blockbuster opioid painkiller. Instead, I learned how profoundly broken the bankruptcy system is, and why we never should have hoped it would render the justice we deserved.
Most people imagine court the way it’s depicted in the movies. There’s a judge and a jury. The single bang of a gavel settles everything. Good wins and justice is done. Bankruptcy court is nothing like this. The process can stretch over agonizing years while creditors fight over the settlement. In September 2019, Purdue Pharma—the maker of OxyContin and a company controlled by the infamous billionaire Sackler family—filed for bankruptcy to protect itself from 2,600 lawsuits for its role in fueling the U.S. overdose crisis through the misbranding and reckless marketing of their flagship product, OxyContin.
Throughout the case, victims had to vie with the claims of major corporate interests—like insurance companies and hospitals—and even state governments. Victims weren’t taking on Purdue. We were set up to fight every other party with a claim to Purdue’s billions, most notably state attorneys general. We were the most deserving and the least protected in this fight. It should be no surprise that we got the short end of the stick, while billions of dollars went to state coffers already flush with unspent funds earmarked for addiction recovery services and programs. The Purdue bankruptcy was the only mechanism for victims to receive any sort of justice from a company that created so much death and destruction to actual people. The “prevention” services the states take claim for in the settlement is not the same as compensating for past harm and injuries to human beings…
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