Father of son who overdosed says billionaire Sackler family should be treated like corner drug dealers

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NEW YORK — When Avi Israel of Buffalo heard that New York and 14 other states had reached a $4.3 billion settlement with the makers of OxyContin, he wondered why the Department of Justice refused to criminally charge the billionaire Sackler family.

“I personally would like to see the Sacklers go to jail,” Israel told PIX11 News Thursday. “If this was a drug dealer in a hoodie on your street corner, that person would be in jail.”

Israel has reason to be upset. His teenaged son, Michael — who suffered from Crohn’s disease — was prescribed opioid painkillers a decade ago and became addicted. Michael took his life in 2011.   

The Department of Justice refused a request by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to criminally prosecute the Sacklers, who own Purdue Pharma, which introduced the opioid OxyContin on the market in the mid-1990s.

The Sacklers and their company have been faulted for an aggressive marketing campaign that convinced doctors it was safe to prescribe OxyContin for chronic pain, even in larger doses. Instead, OxyContin helped fuel the addiction crisis of opioid use and heroin abuse that’s killed more than 500,000 Americans in the last two decades.  

Maura Healey was joined at a virtual press conference Thursday by New York Attorney General Letitia James and Minnesota AG Keith Ellison to announce the civil settlement with Purdue Pharma. It will force the Sacklers to leave the opioid business. 

The family has already filed for bankruptcy and its company will cease to exist by 2024.

“The Sackler family is primarily responsible for this crisis,” Letitia James insisted on the Zoom call. “They should own up to it.”

Healey slammed family greed and boardroom strategy sessions, claiming the marketing of OxyContin would ultimately “line their pockets and the Sacklers became billionaires.” Healy called the downfall of the family a “reckoning” and said the Sackler name won’t be on any hospital wings or museums anymore

Healy added that Purdue Pharma and its marketing company “misled doctors” about the safety of OxyContin.

She said the Sacklers blamed and stigmatized victims of opioid addiction. 

“They hid behind their lawyers! They took advantage of our nation’s bankruptcy laws,” added Attorney General James.

The attorneys general from the three states who held the press conference said they agreed to the civil settlement, because their communities desperately need assistance dealing with the opioid scourge.

“It’s close to $500 million dollars [in New York alone] that will specifically be used for abatement, hospital beds, treatment and prevention,” James noted.

New Jersey will receive about $110 million dollars in settlement money. Aside from the multi-billion dollar payout, Purdue Pharma will have to post millions of pages of internal e-mails and documents online, for the public to see.

Healey returned to the issue of the Sacklers not facing criminal charges.

“I think it’s clear the system protected the billionaires and not the families they hurt,” she said.

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