By GEOFF MULVIHILL Associated Press
A congressional committee heard grievances against the owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma on Tuesday as it considered long-term legislation that would prevent them from using corporate bankruptcy as a shield for personal liability.
Representative Carolyn Maloney called two state attorneys general, opioid activists and an author to argue for members of the Sackler family, owners of the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical giant, who has twice pleaded guilty to charges related to the marketing of OxyContin.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, said the Sacklers were blocking justice for victims of opioid addiction and their families.
“The Sacklers are using Purdue’s corporate bankruptcy as a tactic to hide and protect themselves from personal liability and liability,” he told members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, saying addressing them remotely. “They kept my case away from an Idaho judge and Idaho jury.”
Facing nearly 3,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments across the United States over the opioid record, Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 in an effort to reach a settlement.
As part of the bankruptcy process, debtors are protected from lawsuits. Some bankruptcy courts, including that of White Plains, New York, where Purdue filed for protection, are also willing to allow protections for non-debtors.
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Maloney’s bill, dubbed the SACKLER Act, would ban protections for non-debtors. The bill could leave family members exposed to lawsuits by more than 20 other attorneys general aimed at holding them individually responsible for the opioid epidemic.
As part of the planned bankruptcy plan, members of the Sackler family would relinquish ownership of the business, with the profits being used to fight the drug crisis. The family is also reportedly paying nearly $ 4.3 billion over time to alleviate the opioid crisis and pay those who suffer from it. This is in addition to the more than $ 200 million family members are paying the US government as part of a separate settlement for opioids.
In a statement on Tuesday, branches of the Sackler family that own Purdue said many state and local governments support the proposed settlement and that it will go further to resolve the outbreak than individual lawsuits.
“If litigation were to resume, we are confident that the evidence would show that the members of the Sackler family who have served on the Purdue board alongside respected outside directors have acted ethically and legally,” they said. stated in the press release.
States are divided over whether to accept the plan. They and other debtors – local governments, people injured by opioids and others – are starting to vote. But it will be a bankruptcy judge who will decide his fate.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the first public servant to sue the Sacklers, told the committee she would like to see the bill passed before an Aug. 9 hearing on Purdue’s restructuring proposal.
“It’s an incredibly wealthy family who have been able to buy lobbyists, lawyers and public relations campaigns, and are now trying to buy relief by offering something in bankruptcy proceedings,” said Healey, a Democrat.
Maloney, who chairs the oversight committee, admitted at a press conference Tuesday that passage of the bill is not a certainty and hoped the hearing would rally support from Republicans.
“You still have hope,” she said.
Republicans on the committee seemed less interested in his bankruptcy bill than in targeting another contributing factor to the opioid crisis, which has been linked to the deaths of nearly 500,000 Americans over the past two decades. and has worsened since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. They used the hearing to say the United States must focus on stopping fentanyl and other deadly synthetic opioids at the border with Mexico.
Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky, noted that Maloney’s bill was not assigned to the oversight committee, but rather to the judiciary committee, where it was not put to a hearing. He said Democrats, who control the House, Senate and Presidency, could pass the bill on their own.
“If you want to pass the SACKLER law, put it to a vote,” he said. “Why are you yelling at Republicans? We agree that the Sackler family should be held responsible. “
Comer and all other Republican lawmakers who spoke at the hearing called on Democrats to take action to secure the border, a message some witnesses criticized as changing the subject.
“You are missing out on an opportunity to hold the Sacklers accountable,” said Alexis Pleus, who told the committee how her son died of an overdose in 2014 years after becoming addicted to the OxyContin he was prescribed to reduce. pain from a football injury in high school. .
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