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Supreme Court rejects nationwide opioid settlement with Purdue Pharma that shielded Sackler family from civil suits

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would have shielded members of the Sackler family who own the company from civil lawsuits over the toll of opioids but also would have provided billions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic.

After deliberating more than six months, the justices in a 5-4 vote blocked an agreement hammered out with state and local governments and victims. The Sacklers would have contributed up to $6 billion and given up ownership of the company but retained billions more. The agreement provided that the company would emerge from bankruptcy as a different entity, with its profits used for treatment and prevention.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said “nothing in present law authorizes the Sackler discharge.”

Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

“Opioid victims and other future victims of mass torts will suffer greatly in the wake of today’s unfortunate and destabilizing decision,” Kavanaugh wrote.

The high court had put the settlement on hold last summer, in response to objections from the Biden administration.

It’s unclear what happens next.

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling marks a major setback for the families who lost loved ones to overdose and for those still struggling with addiction,” Edward Neiger, a lawyer representing more than 60,000 overdose victims, said in a statement.

“The Purdue plan was a victim-centered plan that would provide billions of dollars to the states to be used exclusively to abate the opioid crisis and $750 million for victims of the crisis, so that they could begin to rebuild their lives. As a result of the senseless three-year crusade by the government against the plan, thousands of people died of overdose, and today’s decision will lead to more needless overdose deaths.”

An opponent of the settlement praised the outcome.

Ed Bisch’s 18-year-old son Eddie, died from an overdose after taking OxyContin in Philadelphia in 2001.

The older Bisch, who lives in New Jersey, has been speaking out against Purdue and Sackler family members ever since and is part of a relatively small but vocal group of victims and family members who opposed the settlement.

Ed Bisch’s 18-year-old son Eddie, died from an overdose after taking OxyContin in Philadelphia in 2001.

“This is a step toward justice. It was outrageous what they were trying to get away with,” he said Thursday. “They have made a mockery of the justice system and then they tried to make a mockery of the bankruptcy system.”

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He said he would have accepted the deal if he thought it would have made a dent in the opioid crisis.

He’s now calling on the Department of Justice to seek criminal charges against Sackler family members

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