("LAST WEEK TONIGHT" THEME PLAYS)
Moving on. Our main story tonight
concerns a public health crisis that's exposed
the failure of American institutions.
No, not that one.
Not that one either.
That's a good point, but not actually this time.
Yep, there it is! The opioid epidemic.
And if you're thinking, "Hold on,
didn't you already do a show about this?"
You're wrong. We've actually done two of them.
But we thought it would be worth doing
a third installment tonight anyway for a couple of reasons.
First, it's an epidemic that's still very much raging,
exacerbated by both the pandemic and illicit Fentanyl
to the point that last year,
nearly 70,000 people died from opioid overdoses.
That is the highest annual death toll ever.
And second, you may have seen a bunch of headlines recently
about trials and settlements taking place around the country.
There've been so many of them,
it can be genuinely hard to keep track.
But we want to focus on just one company tonight,
Purdue Pharma, whose rollout of Oxycontin
arguably fueled the opioid crisis.
We've talked about their relentless push
to sell Oxycontin before,
but more material has come out in the last couple of years,
including this spectacular glimpse
into a 1997 motivational sales meeting
for the company's drug reps.
("SHOUT" BY THE ISLEY BROTHERS PLAYS)
That was Purdue's VP of sales
performing an oxy-themed cover of "Shout!"
And that has got to be
one of the most upsetting decisions from the late 90s,
right up there with give every lonely child
an electronic imaginary friend that will immediately die,
and let's set every sitcom in New York City
and make sure the Twin Towers are prominently featured
in the transition shots.
Really remind people they're there.
Purdue Pharma is owned by the Sackler family,
and in recent years, Purdue and the Sacklers
have found themselves being investigated by the DOJ
and facing thousands of lawsuits
filed by state and local governments,
Native American tribes, hospitals, and individuals.
And they've spent years working with an army of lawyers
attempting to negotiate their way out of all of it,
which has resulted in two major resolutions,
including this big news from last October.
ADRIENNE BANKERT: It's being hailed by the federal government
as a major victory against a company
whose drug, Oxycontin,
is part of the public health crisis
of opioid addiction that has led to the deaths
of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
REPORTER: The maker of Oxycontin admitted
to defrauding regulators
and paying illegal kickbacks to doctors.
It's true. Purdue has pled guilty to multiple felonies.
And it is weird to hear news that sounds so genuinely good.
It'd be really nice to get more of that once in a while,
like "No once-in-a-century weather events for a few hours,"
or "Billionaire goes to space and dies there."
You know, something heartwarming.
That guilty plea is actually part of a much larger plan
that we will get into later, involving the company
also filing for bankruptcy, and just this past March,
submitting a reorganization plan
that would end Sackler ownership.
And the thing is this might all sound
like a major victory, that the Sacklers
are finally experiencing significant consequences,
But unfortunately, that could not be farther from the truth.
with the bankruptcy's confirmation hearing
scheduled to begin later this week,
let's talk about the Sackler family,
How hard they've been fighting to defend their name,
the details of the deal they're attempting to strike,
and why the whole thing is a bunch of bullshit.
And let's start with a basic question.
Who are the Sacklers?
Well, the Sacklers are the descendants
of three brothers, Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer,
who, in 1952, bought the company
that would eventually become Purdue Pharma.
And while Arthur's branch of the family
sold their stake decades ago before Oxycontin was developed,
the heirs of Raymond and Mortimer both benefited from
and in some cases actively managed
Purdue's boom years of selling opioids.
Many Sacklers either worked at the company
or served on its board, and as the Massachusetts AG points out,
some of them were pretty hands-on.
They were in the boardroom. They owned the company.
We have emails and memos that show the direct control
that they exercised over sales and marketing.
One of the Sackler family members went so far
as to want to get in the car with Purdue sales reps
and drive around to visit doctors' offices.
It's true. And doing a drug rep ride-along
is about as hands-on as you can get.
And quick side note there, just spare a thought
for the sales rep in question
'cause sure, they too contributed
to the over prescription of America and probably led
to their own local mini epidemic,
but nobody, not even Hitler,
should have to sit in a car with their boss.
And talk about what exactly? The weather?
And then when you run out of things to say about it,
do what? Sit in silence?
And then say, "Actually, I could go
for a bathroom break right now," and have him say,
"I'm fine but feel free to stop."
And then what? You stop? And he waits in the car?
And then when you get back, he looks inconvenienced?
I would sooner throw myself out of the car
in the middle of the freeway.
Now, the man responsible for that ride-along
was Richard Sackler, who was actually president
of the company for years. And yet, interestingly,
it is hard to find images of him other than that one.
In fact, while the Sacklers have relished
slapping their family name on institutions,
as individuals, they've tried to stay out of the spotlight.
When Richard Sackler gave a deposition in 2015,
Purdue fought hard to keep it private.
That is why, in our last piece,
We had a bunch of actors play him
To convey important things like the fact he said...
Now thankfully, that deposition has since been released,
so you can finally watch the man in action.
INTERVIEWER: How much money has Purdue Fredrick
or Purdue Pharma made off the sale of Oxycontin?
I don't know. I don't know. I don't know the answer.
I don't know.
I don't know bu-- I just don't know.
Admit it. The guy just oozes charisma.
Although honestly, having actually seen it,
I think I prefer the version we made.
ACTOR: How much money has Purdue Fredrick
or Purdue Pharma made off the sale of Oxycontin?
I don't know. I don't know.
I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.
ACTOR: How many Purdue entities are there?"
I don't know!
Yeah, that is just objectively better.
Now, while Richard was the most involved,
he was not alone. His cousin, Kathe Sackler,
was an officer of the company for years
and even claimed in emails that...
Although, despite that fact, when Kathe was called
before Congress last year and asked to apologize
for her role in the opioid crisis,
she didn't exactly do that.
I have tried to figure out,
was-- is there anything that I could have done differently
knowing what I knew then, not what I know now.
I have to say, I can't--
There is nothing that I can find
that I would have done differently.
Okay, first, that is definitely not an apology, Kathe.
And second, come on. Nearly a year into a pandemic,
that is just an unacceptable at-home setup.
Put your laptop on a couple books,
upgrade your router, and while you're at it,
one-click a ring light.
So, Kathe, that's books, router, ring light.
It's the little Zoom tricks that we've all learned
that'll help you look your best as you absolve yourself
of responsibility for a massive public health crisis.
But the Sacklers haven't just been appearing at congressional hearings.
Some have been trying hard to rehabilitate their image
and even paint themselves as victims.
Take David Sackler. He's Richard's son
and a former board member himself.
He gave an interview to Vanity Fair,
featuring this portrait, which, by the way,
looks like it should be a poster for natural family planning
in a Christian health clinic. And in it, he complained...
...which does not seem remotely credible.
For a start, everyone knows
that is not how four-year-olds talk.
You're missing eight "ums," 15 "And, and, ands,"
three times they're completely out of breath for no reason,
and five complete trail offs.
I call bullshit on that whole fake anecdote.
But that is just the beginning.
David's branch of the family was also involved in the launch
of a pro-Sackler website that aims
to "correct the record" called judgeforyourselves.info,
which is shocking for a number of reasons.
First, because billionaires, for some reason,
chose not to splurge for the dot com,
but also because of just how petty the website is.
It features a list of outlets that mistakenly
used the brand name "Oxycontin"
when they meant the generic "Oxycodone,"
Including a college newspaper,
and over seven hours of video presentations
in which a catastrophically uncharismatic lawyer
attempts to disprove every legal argument ever made
against the Sacklers and Purdue.
This terrible website of self-serving nonsense
has been promoted by, among others,
Joss Sackler. That is David's wife,
and you may remember her from her failure
to face the camera in Vanity Fair.
Now even though Joss isn't directly involved
in the family business, she actually talks more publicly
than most Sacklers.
She has a clothing line called LBV
or Les Bouledogues Vigneronnes which translates to
"The winemaking bulldogs..."
Joss was also once interviewed for Town & Country,
which she complained about how unfairly
the press treats both her and her family,
noting that a previous article...
despite her telling them...
and going on to say...
And that is one hell of a claim, Joss.
Because nobody is intimidated by linguists.
You're basically an English major
who wasted more time.
I'll fuck with a linguist all day long. I'll show you.
How do you make two proper nouns into a double negative?
Joss and David. Boom! Linguist, fucked with.
So to recap, it is pretty clear
some Sacklers have been working extremely hard
to try and engender public sympathy.
But the real battle the family's been fighting
has been a legal one. And that
is what I want to spend the rest of this piece talking about
because while the details of what the Sacklers are doing
are incredibly complicated, the end result is both simple
and absolutely infuriating.
And let's start with that deal you heard about earlier
where Purdue pled guilty to three felonies.
It sounded like some good news,
but there are some major asterisks there.
Because while the "company" pled guilty to those charges,
no individuals did and certainly no Sacklers,
and that alone is a big deal to them.
In fact, just watch as Kathe jumped to remind everyone
of that fact during their congressional hearing.
The Sackler family, through Purdue,
has three felony convictions, but no one's in jail,
and it has its billions still.
KATHE SACKLER: Excuse me, the Sackler family doesn't have
a felony conviction.
Purdue Pharma has a felony conviction.
I'm an individual person.
Okay, hold on.
I do get the point that she is making there,
but the fact is, Purdue is made up of individual people
who control it.
Think of Purdue like Lambchop.
If Lambchop threatened to kill the president on live Tv,
Lambchop wouldn't get in trouble or go to prison.
Shari Lewis would. Why?
Because Lambchop is a puppet who does whatever the fuck
Shari Lewis tells Lambchop to do.
Now, the Sacklers might argue that Purdue was controlled
by many people, including non-family members,
and that while they're not facing criminal charges,
they are still facing consequences.
But here's the thing: Are they? Are they really?
And that brings us back to the bankruptcy
that I mentioned earlier. Because the bankruptcy deal
that Purdue has proposed is the vehicle through which
the Sacklers are likely to escape
any true accountability.
Very basically, Purdue was buried
in thousands of lawsuits. And rather than fighting
them all separately, the company filed
for bankruptcy, negotiated to resolve
all of its debt in one place.
This proposed deal requires, among other things,
the Sacklers relinquished ownership of Purdue,
which will be turned into a public benefit company,
whose profits will go towards fighting
the opioid epidemic.
Now, the company claims that bankruptcy will deliver...
But a few things about that.
First, the Sacklers, themselves,
are only contributing around 4.3 billion
to that settlement, which I do know
does sound like a lot.
Until you learn the family has assets of around 11 billion.
Which is a massive amount of money.
But I guess that is what happens
when your company makes an addictive product
and pushes its employees to...
I just saw that 10 minutes ago, and somehow,
it's gotten even worse.
Now, also, you may want to know,
regarding the Sackler family's net worth,
a fair amount of it was built up
in a very particular period.
Because, from 2008 to 2017, even as the opioid epidemic
was kicking into high gear, more than 10 billion dollars
was transferred out of the company
for the benefit of the family.
Now, the Sacklers fiercely maintain
that those transfers were proper,
but the DOJ alleged they were made...
In other words, to get the money
out of the company so that the Sacklers
could protect it.
And they found some pretty damning evidence.
Particularly from David Sackler,
who seemed to directly express fears
over lawsuits taking the family money back in 2007.
Writing in an email...
And David, buddy, don't say that kind of thing
over email. I mean, don't send it
in the mail-mail, don't speak it, don't think it,
and ideally, don't receive an upbringing
that would prompt the thought in your mind,
but bare minimum, keep it out
of the permanent legal record.
And if you're thinking, "Well, okay,
they transferred money to the family,
but people can still pursue claims against the Sacklers
Well, no, because here is the really insidious part.
While there are approximately 400 civil suits
that do name the Sacklers themselves,
the family is insistent they will only agree
to the settlement if they get what is called a...
And this thing is bullshit.
Because if they get it, all current lawsuits
against the Sacklers evaporate
and no future lawsuits can be filed.
Meaning that the Sacklers, who didn't file
for personal bankruptcy themselves, remember,
are basically off the hook.
And if it sounds weird to you that a company
can declare bankruptcy and then a bunch
of individuals get shielded from liability,
that's because it is. It's really fucking weird!
In fact, some bankruptcy courts don't allow
these third-party releases at all.
But Purdue, very carefully, chose one
that they knew probably would.
A few months before filing for bankruptcy,
Purdue changed one of its official
corporate addresses to one
in White Plains, New York, at which it's never
conducted business. And... where there
is only one bankruptcy judge, who, completely coincidentally,
has supported third-party releases
in the past. Which is all
a pretty obvious tactic, isn't it?
It's not like they moved to White Plains
for any other reason.
If you look up things to do in White Plains,
the first result you get, and this is true,
is a Trip Advisor page recommending
a helicopter tour of New York City.
Which is just incredible. "Come visit White Plains,
where you can immediately leave
and go look at somewhere more interesting to live."
And the Sackler's third-party release
is comprehensive. Stating that the...
And this is the list of every person and entity
they want covered. It contains over 200 companies
and 200 more trusts where the Sacklers
have tucked their money away.
This release is ludicrously broad.
Which is probably why the AGs of...
are still objecting to it, and two branches
of the DOJ have said it violates
the US Constitution, and specifically,
violates due process because it deprives
individuals of an opportunity to be heard.
And yet, incredibly, despite all of this,
it is widely assumed that this whole deal
is going to go ahead.
And while it sounds completely terrible to me,
I will say, at least one person thinks
that it's actually a very good thing.
Although, I will say, that one person
is Purdue's current chairman.
This is a milestone in public health history.
Never before have you seen this amount of money,
10 billion dollars, being devoted
to opioid abatement.
And it's only available through this plan
assuming we can get it approved,
and I think when people think about it,
they will come around to the notion, "Well,
I might've liked something slightly different,
but this is certainly a lot better
than going into endless costly litigation
that may end up with no proceeds going
"I might've liked something different,
but this is better than nothing."
It's what you say when your dad insists
on having dinner at Chili's. Not when you're talking
about the fate of a company that poisoned a generation.
Which, incidentally is, I believe,
Chili's current slogan.
And here is the thing, that man is not even
The longer these lawsuits drag on,
the more money will get wasted in court.
And an increasingly large percentage of it
will go to lawyers rather than victims.
Because right now, under this settlement,
claimants could receive payments from...
Which, yes, feels wildly insufficient,
but some families are reluctantly willing
to take what they can get. Although, I will say, others,
like this woman whose son became addicted to opioids
after being prescribed OxyContin as a
high school student, are furious that this
is what it's come to.
We want our voices heard, not interpreted
by the court like they have been.
I don't want somebody saying that I--
I'm so happy with the settlement,
as I hear at practically every hearing.
I'm a mom, I'm not happy with any of this.
And I know hundreds of moms that aren't either,
For some families of victims, the opportunity
to have their voices heard is priceless.
Which is to say a fuck of a lot more
than 48,000 dollars.
Some have even called into court
only to be told it wasn't the right forum.
One woman called into the bankruptcy hearing
To which the judge replied...
And the thing is, he is right.
But this also may be the last forum
these families have to be heard.
Look, it might well be true that this is the best deal
we can get under our current system,
but the fact that that's the case,
doesn't speak well to this deal,
or indeed, the system itself.
And if you're thinking, "Well, the Sacklers are paying
so much already, what more do you want?"
I'm not sure that is the right way
to think about this. Because I would argue
that when your family's company recklessly sold
a product as damaging as OxyContin,
the question might not be: How many billions
is it right for you to pay? It's: How many billions
is it right for you to keep?
And I would argue: No billions.
And I'm afraid it somehow gets one step worse.
Because the way this settlement is structured,
it's actually hurting the Sacklers even less
than you might think.
That 4.3 billion that they agreed to pay
is spread out over nine years,
with the largest payments coming toward the end
of that period, which means,
they could make that money up in interest and investments,
and never have to touch the principle.
In fact, when the Sacklers are done paying in 2030,
they will probably be richer than they are today.
So, I guess the answer to...
Is... Oh, don't worry, forever, David,
because it seems that's how the fucking system works.
Unfortunately, when it comes to accountability
for the Sacklers, this is probably it.
Because while technically, they could still
be criminally charged, nobody expects that to happen.
And it is just infuriating that things are set
to end so comfortably for a family
that has made so much at the expense of so many.
Although I will say there is one,
tiny positive here. And that is that Purdue
and the Sacklers have always heavily valued secrecy.
But this deal requires the creation
of an online public repository that will eventually contain...
Which is undeniably a good thing.
But even with that, let's admit,
we're not getting anything approaching justice here.
And the Sacklers, in sparing no expense,
seem to have successfully bought their way
out of this problem.
Well, not no-expense, because, again,
despite spending millions on lawyers
and even creating a website filled with legal propaganda,
they still somehow couldn't scrape up
the 2,500 dollars required to buy the ".com" for it.
And the reason I happen to know exactly how much it costs
is because that is how much we spent to buy it.
It is true, we bought...
And I know that it does absolutely nothing
to even the scales here, but it does give me
the tiniest bit of comfort to imagine
that it might irritate the Sacklers a bit
to know that when people go to that site
in the future, this is what they're going to see.
Hi, it's me, the real Richard Sackler.
Welcome to the premiere source of information
on the Sackler family that you can find
on the internet.
But you gotta get the ".com." I mean, why...
What kind of fucking idiot would set up
an important website and not buy the ".com"?
(CHUCKLES) I don't know. I don't know!
Anyway, if you want the truth,
you've come to the right place.
So click around, okay? Get a sense
of what my terrible family has done.
And, uh, you know, maybe we'll throw in
some makeup tidbits, I don't know,
maybe how to make a great pesto chicken.
Anyway, there's some great buttons
you can press around and you'll get there somehow.
Anyway, best of luck to you, all right?
Thank you, Richard Sackler.
This new website lets you "judge for yourselves"
whether the Sacklers got off too easy,
which they absolutely did.
On it you can see Richard Sackler's
core deposition, all of our episodes
about the opioid crisis, and there is even a link
that will eventually direct you to the document repository
the moment it is launched.
Also, because the families of those impacted
by the Sacklers haven't always been heard,
there's an excerpt on the website
of what some of them wanted to say.
All of this will be up as long as we own the domain.
And this is at least something that the Sacklers
cannot throw their dirty money at
and make it go away. Which is not to say
that it isn't for sale at all, Sackler family,
it is available for a price.
Let's say 10 billion dollars.