On Sep. 15, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in New York as part of its $10 billion agreement to settle thousands of opioid lawsuits in dozens of states. This filing came after the Sackler family, who owns the company, was in talks for weeks to settle cases brought against Purdue for its role in the nationwide opioid crisis.
The toll of the opioid crisis in America has reached epidemic heights, with a September 2019 study finding that there are now more than 45,000 opioid overdose deaths per year in the U.S. This means that more Americans are dying from opioid overdose than from traffic collisions, replacing it as the leading cause of preventable death in the nation.
Purdue and the Sackler family have been of particular focus in efforts to reel in the epidemic in part due the devastating impact of its patented OxyContin pills. OxyContin is a high-strength pill that leads the opioid market, representing 27 percent of total oxycodone sold between 2006-2012. Purdue alone manufactured approximately 10 percent of the oxycodone-containing pills purchased by U.S. pharmacies in that same timeframe. Additionally, a 2009 CDC analysis found that Oxycodone was present in one of three overdose deaths related to prescription opioids, which is the most of any drug and nearly twice the rate of hydrocodone-linked deaths.
With Purdue Pharma’s major contributing role in the devastating crisis, some do not believe that the $10 billion settlement is enough. This is especially true given emerged evidence revealing that Purdue executives may have intentionally pushed their pills on the market, despite knowing the high-risk of addiction and overdose. Even so, criminal action has been largely avoided in attempts to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable. “The Sackler family does not belong in bankruptcy court,” says U.S. New York Representative Max Rose. “They belong in handcuffs and should be charged as the criminal drug dealers they are. And just like criminal drug dealers, we should take every cent that they have.”
So, what impact will the bankruptcy filing have on ongoing cases? For the time being, the filling means that any opioid litigation involving Purdue is effectively on hold. According to bankruptcy attorney Jenee Ciccarelli, “what will then happen is that the plaintiffs in [ongoing] suits will have to go to the bankruptcy court and apply for relief from the automatic stay to pursue the case in the court that they’re in.” This includes more than 2000 lawsuits still pending against Purdue.
A partner at Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP in Boston, J. Tucker Merrigan represents individual clients throughout all of Massachusetts and the United States—concentrating his practice on cases that involve personal injury, defective medical devices, dangerous drugs, wrongful death, premises liability, products liability, medical malpractice, and insurance law. Known for strong client relationships and positive results, Merrigan has been named a Top 40 Under 40 Trial Attorney by National Trial Lawyers from 2015-2018 and named Super Lawyer Rising Star for 2018.