Emily Walden’s son T.J. was prescribed opioids throughout his childhood to help him recover from operations. He became addicted once he started using OxyContin. He was a 21-year-old member of the Kentucky National Guard when he died of an opioid overdose four years later. Ms. Walden has been working to convince the federal government to hold pharmaceutical executives personally responsible for their role in the opioid crisis. At the top of her list is Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, and the wealthy Sackler family that owns the company. Ms. Walden felt little relief when the Justice Department announced that Purdue would plead guilty to criminal charges as part of an $8.3 billion settlement or that the Sacklers would pay $225 million in civil penalties, the New York Times reports. The company is in bankruptcy, making it unlikely to pay anything close to the negotiated settlement, and the Sacklers remain free.
Twenty years after the introduction of OxyContin and 450,000 opioid overdose deaths later, Wednesday’s announcement brought little solace to survivors of the opioid crisis and the families whose loved ones were its victims. Purdue agreed to plead guilty to felony charges of defrauding federal agencies and violating anti-kickback laws. The deal does not end thousands of lawsuits brought by states, cities and others against the opioid epidemic’s most prominent defendant. In North Caldwell, N.J., Lora Goldwater recalled watching her son struggle with an opioid addiction that began with OxyContin in college, leading to heroin and seven stints in rehab before he became sober four years ago. For her, the settlement is insufficient unless the Sacklers and Purdue executives face criminal charges, which prosecutors said could happen. “They definitely engaged in criminal activity due to greed, insensitivity and because they felt they could get away with it.”