House members react to reports of settlement with Purdue that excludes prison sentencing, eludes justice for victims of the opioid epidemic

Sackler family’s criminal acts contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans

October 16, 2020, Washington, D.C.—Today, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, joined by Congressmembers Max Rose (NY-11), Ann Kuster (NH-2), David Trone (MD-6), Tim Ryan (OH-13) and 33 other House members, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr expressing their deep concern regarding recent and alarming reports that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and members of the Sackler family are nearing a plea agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ), which would resolve all their federal criminal liability without a single person serving a day in prison. Purdue and the Sackler family perpetrated one of the most egregious criminal acts in American history, intentionally addicting millions of unsuspecting people to powerful painkillers for profit and directly contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote: “Millions of American families impacted by the opioid epidemic are looking to you and your Department for justice. Justice for the sleepless nights spent worrying about sons and daughters trapped in the grip of substance use disorder, justice for the jobs lost and the lives ruined, and justice for the lives of loved ones lost to overdoses. If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law.”

“We are further concerned by the ongoing discrepancy between the “justice” billionaires receive versus the countless people of color whose lives have been ruined by the way the federal government penalizes drug use. The federal prison population has risen nearly 800% since 1980 in large part due to the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses that have had a profound and disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities. Meanwhile, a settlement like the one reportedly being considered by your Department would allow a group of people who deliberately designed and marketed an addictive drug and caused the deaths of thousands of Americans to get off scot-free once again.”

The House members urged the Department of Justice to ensure that any settlement with Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family:

  1. Is made public and viewable by the American people in its entirety;
  2. Reflects the principles for achieving a just resolution to criminal cases, as embodied in 18 USC 3553. In particular, that the outcome reflects the seriousness of the offense, that it provides just punishment for the offense, and that it affords adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; and
  3. In no way interferes with the ability of other government entities or individuals to take civil or criminal action against Purdue Pharma or any other entity or individual associated with or connected to Purdue’s criminal activities.

The letter also calls on the Department of Justice to learn from its previous prosecution of Purdue, which failed to stop the pharmaceutical company and the Sacklers from continuing their deadly and criminal marketing scheme. 

“In 2007, prosecutors at the Department of Justice knew the full extent of Purdue’s depraved criminal enterprise and detailed the reasons why three top Purdue executives should be indicted on numerous felonies in a 120-page memo. But instead of fully prosecuting those crimes, DOJ opted to settle with Purdue in exchange for the equivalent of less than 6 months’ worth of OxyContin sales and the three executives’ guilty pleas to misdemeanors.”

“We cannot help but wonder how many of those lives could have been saved had your predecessors in the Department imposed a true deterrent by prosecuting Purdue and the Sackler family to the fullest extent of the law in 2007. Instead, the documents unearthed in that case, including your Department’s prosecution memo, were buried and it took another decade before the American people learned the full extent of Purdue’s efforts to intentionally create an opioid epidemic for profit. During that time, Purdue continued their fraudulent activities, they expanded the epidemic to a global market and the Sacklers siphoned off billions of dollars into offshore bank accounts to ensure that they would still walk away as billionaires when their criminal enterprise finally came crumbling down.”


A copy of the letter can be viewed here.