In this, our traditional season of love and gratitude, we have a lot to be thankful for. The pandemic is killing 3,000 people a day, but we have an effective vaccine, developed in record time. Many of us won’t see family for Christmas, but if we’re careful, we’ll live to see them in the near-future. We still live in the greatest country on Earth, and even though our politics are frayed and our people divided, we have always found healing leaders when we needed them.
There is a lot of work to do, but our history suggests we will rise to the occasion and deal with multiple crises brought about by Covid-19. Healthcare, homelessness, evictions, unemployment, and hunger are taking their toll. Pray Senate leadership resists its petty partisan urges, and, after wasting 2020 in ridiculous ideological stances, agrees to provide lasting relief. I’m calling my representatives to demand they provide life support to bars, restaurants, salons, and gyms. I hope you’ll do the same.
You may not realize that while we’re focused on the pandemic, the opioid crisis has re-emerged. According to the CDC, it killed 71,999 in 2019, and that toll rose by 13% this year.
The Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the leading opioid killer, OxyContin, have finally been compelled to testify before Congress in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The family, worth an estimated $13 billion, a fortune built on the backs of the pain and suffering of opioid users must be made to pay a lot more than the $225 million they’ve agreed to. They bankrupted the company, but they’ve held onto their personal loot by moving it offshore. The family denies moving it, but California Congressional rep and star prosecutor, Katie Potter, is on to them. She tweeted, “I know a fraudulent transfer when I see one.” They have stonewalled the government investigation, refusing to comment or testify in public until being subpoenaed last week.
There have been no criminal charges so far, but bribing medical doctors to overprescribe OxyContin while denying their own evidence that the painkiller was spectacularly—galactically—more addictive than they let on, should land them in prison. The Sackler family’s greed and unspeakable lack of empathy for their victims is unmatched in my recollection.
Testifying under oath, every family member was at a loss to know what they would have done differently, blaming the entire mess on underlings. They thoroughly scapegoated their management team, as they talked fast and walked backwards, disavowing any knowledge of the more-than-a-little perverse marketing plan that vaulted OxyContin to the forefront of prescription painkillers. It seems lying to physicians and patients about the addictive nature of the drug, and providing financial incentives for doctors to over-prescribe was not a known fact to the family that owns the company and controls the board that hires the management. One incredulous Congressperson who was shocked by their avowed ignorance of the goings on in their company, wondered aloud if the billionaire family owned a TV or had a newspaper subscription.
Here’s a sampling of what committee members from both sides of the aisle thought about the Sackler family dodging and weaving to shift blame and keep their ill-gotten gains:
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) to Kathe Sackler, a doctor and former VP of the company: “The federal government audit of the Sackler family is that your family, you, and your fellow members of the Sackler family have $12 billion in profits from your aggressive marketing and sales of OxyContin. Is there any reason that money, every single dollar, should not be returned and recovered by taxpayers for distribution to [victims’] families?”
Rep. James Comer Jr. (R-KY) to former board member David Sackler: “I am just sick to see what it appears to me as a family and a company that’s going to use the bankruptcy process to get out of this and to continue to be one of the wealthiest families in America,”
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY): “I think it’s clear your family has tried to fraudulently shield money for your own personal benefit.”
Finally, here’s the money quote from Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN): “Watching you testify makes my blood boil. I’m not aware of any family in America that is more evil than yours.”
There is real concern that what monies do find their way to the states—money that is intended to help families who lost loved ones, will be diverted to Covid-19 related issues. It is tragedy stacked on tragedy.
Enter a controversial and intriguing concept called a “Public Benefit Company.” Changing its incorporation status from for-profit to a PBC would force the diversion of post-bankruptcy profits to augment the meager $225M now earmarked to pay damages. More hope for a better future this season.