The billionaire Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, are to be protected from civil lawsuits linked to the US opioid crisis, in exchange for a $6 billion settlement.
Purdue, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after facing thousands of lawsuits, manufactured painkillers such as OxyContin which have been linked to the opioid crisis.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled (30 May) that the Sackler family will be fully immune from civil suits but will pay $6 billion to help address opioid addiction and fund rehabilitation programmes and other addiction treatments.
Approximately $750 million of the settlement will be distributed to victims of the opioid crisis and their families.
Potential criminal charges
The settlement must now receive final approval from a court, but it does not protect the Sacklers from potential criminal charges.
The family will give up ownership of the company, which will be rebranded as Knoa, and send its profits to a fund to help treat addiction.
A 2021 investigation by the US House Oversight Committee indicated that members of the family, "who have owned a controlling share of Purdue Pharma since 1952, are collectively worth a total of $11 billion".
The family has pressed for civil immunity, and the court's ruling removes a key barrier to the money being paid out.
Judge Eunice Lee said the claims filed against Purdue Pharma were inextricably linked to the Sackler family. She ruled that if lawsuits were permitted to continue targeting them, Purdue Pharma would not be able to reach a bankruptcy deal.
The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York last year removed the family name from an arts education centre, and the Louvre in Paris removed their name from a 12-room wing, following protests.