Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Opioids III: The Sacklers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

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("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.

(SINGING)

("SHOUT" BY THE ISLEY BROTHERS PLAYS)

Wow.

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.

So tonight,

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...

(SINGING)

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

directly, right?"

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

to anybody.

Okay, no.

"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

entirely wrong.

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,

and families.

Exactly.

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

and said...

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.

It's called...

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?

Bye-bye!

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.

The Description of Opioids III: The Sacklers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)