Purdue Pharma Pays


The crisis has proved fatal for those who overdose on opioids.

A big step in stopping the opioid crisis has been made.

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the opioid painkiller brand OxyContin, has filed for bankruptcy on Sept 15 after being accused of helping to fuel the growing opioid epidemic in the United States through aggressive and misleading advertising. More than 2,000 lawsuits were filed against the company, demanding compensation for its role in the crisis. Steps are being taken to properly settle the agreement that may be worth billions, and could help fight the opioid threat.

Since the late twentieth century, more than 700,000 people have died as a result of drug overdose from opioids in the United States. The problem has been traced to the over-prescription of opioid medication that started in the late 1990s after they became popular for post-surgery pain relief. However, many continued to use their medication even after their pain stopped. This led to addiction and tolerance to the substance, which when consumed in large amounts can lead to death due to its toxicity. Since then, prescription of opioids have nearly quadrupled from 76.9 million in 1991 to 289 million in 2016, due to the easier and more inexpensive process of prescribing medicine rather than undergoing more costly therapy.

The bankruptcy deal for Purdue Pharma is expected to be worth between $10-12 billion, resulting in the company’s disintegration after making a total of $31 billion in revenue for its product as of 2016. Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy is expected to be the biggest payout of any company accused of fueling the opioid crisis. The Sackler family that owns the company will pay at least $3 billion, and plans to create a new company called NewCo that will continue selling OxyContin, but with the sales revenue going to the people who filed the cases against the company. Opioid medication will also be donated to institutions to treat addiction.

However, the settlement is still being negotiated, and the end is not necessarily in sight. Only 24 states and 2000 communities have agreed to the bankruptcy agreement, with the rest intending to pursue further action against the Sacklers who could still hold billionaire status after the settlement. 

An additional goal of the lawsuits is to potentially force the Sacklers to pay for addiction treatment to fight the crisis. Funding for treatment in the United States is underwhelming, and many activists and politicians, such as 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, are advocating for increased spending of potentially $100 billion to revitalize treatment efforts. Several politicians are also calling for families like the Sacklers, who worsened the crisis, to be held criminally accountable, rather than just being forced to pay money in re-compensation.

Today, the opioid epidemic kills more people in the United States than car accidents and gun crime. Without a way to alleviate the pressure the epidemic is having on people, more will continue to die as opioids are over-prescribed and misused. Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy, executed by the actions of a several-thousand member team, goes to show that when people work together, they can begin working on solving our nation’s problems.