Janine Jackson interviewed Public Citizen’s Rick Claypool about OxyContin immunity for the September 3, 2021, episode of counter-turn. This is a slightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: It’s hard to think of a better illustration of the cynicism of ‘justice’ under corporate capitalism than September 1 decision that absolves the billionaire owners of a pharmaceutical company that spent years aggressively marketing a painkiller, false declaration its addictive properties, as this same company promises to throw money at the resulting devastating public health crisis. But here we are with the approval of the plan to organize the bankruptcy of Purdue Pharma, controlled by the Sackler family, whose heavily pushed drug OxyContin contributed significantly to the devastation of lives and communities. Across the country.
Judge Robert Drain of the United States Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, New York, did not seem happy with the decision; he called it “bitter” – which should raise questions about how much practical anger should be directed at the Sackler family’s particular venality, over the systemic issues they are capable of ‘to exploit.
We are now joined by Rick Claypool, research director focused on crime and corporate wrongdoing at public citizen. He is now joining us by phone from Rhode Island. welcome to counter-turn, Rick Claypool.
Rick Claypool: Thanks Janine. Thank you for.
not a word:I must start by saying that there is no way to cover all the important ground here :The way the Sackler family played cultural currency, public relations job victims of pain, the hidden profit…. Books have been and will be written about it.
But let’s stay in the moment. What is this bankruptcy judgment for? What is the impact ?
CR: It does a number of things. Although the main goal is to end Purdue Pharma, as the for-profit corporation that it was, and turn it into this public benefit corporation, and pour in billions of dollars to basically help clean up the mess that Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler family who owned and operated it for decades, created.
The bitter part is that it immunizes family members from future liability for wrongdoing related to the business. So Purdue Pharma, the company, is the reason they’re billionaires in the first place. And they’re going to walk away from these billionaires.
And so, if the standard of justice is accountability, deterrence of wrongdoing, equal treatment, right? I mean, right now, there are 450,000 people serving time every day in the United States for non-violent drug crimes, right? A subset of that half million people got hooked on OxyContin, and things went downhill for them from there. The book was thrown at them. And here you have one of the richest families in the world, walking away with tarnished reputations and their billions. And that couldn’t be a more unfair outcome.
NOT A WORD : And you’re not alone in thinking that. And my understanding from the media coverage is that it’s not over until it’s over. And these states, for example — and maybe their reasons have to do with being saddled with a lot of healthcare costs from the opioid epidemic — but people are still trying to put off that decision. Do you think that makes sense? Or what do you see could happen?
CR: My focus, and what I spend all my time thinking about, is literal corporate crime. It is therefore a civil settlement. What I’m watching is subsequent criminal liability. Department of Justice made a civil settlement with the Sacklers, and also settled its criminal charges, three felonies, against Purdue Pharma itself, in November. But he explicitly says that this settlement does not release them from any future criminal liability.
U.S. too to call the Department of Justice to take up the threads of this investigation and pursue it. And if any crimes are uncovered from the facts of the investigation, then the Sackler family members should be charged.
NOT A WORD : I would like to ask you, finally, what would you like to see more or less of in terms of media coverage? Because we are going to see media coverage. What would you like to see more or less of, in terms of coverage?
CR: I want to quickly pick up on something you said about Purdue coverage. And just that it’s true that this particular case had been covered better than most corporate crime cases. I don’t know if it’s just the seriousness of the situation or the actual family members – they seem indifferent and have no sort of remorse; they continue to insist that they did nothing wrong and that there is nothing they would have done differently. Just absolutely macabre.
It should also be noted that this is a private company. So the only people with anything at stake with the company were the Sacklers themselves, right? It’s certainly the case that in corporate crime coverage, a lot of the time when corporate commits crimes, it’s kind of reported as if it’s bad news that they’ve done themselves take on business pages.
NOT A WORD : To the right.
CR: And the frame is far too often about how the business will fare. And, of course, we’re not talking about public companies, where there are more investors, and also all members of the corporate media simply have more to lose in the fate of how the stakes for these companies go up and go down.
Here you see a company where it is almost processed that those connections are not there. So I think it’s interesting. I think it’s still true that this further obscures the deeper systemic issues of crime and corporate wrongdoing, and how capitalist greed fuels and can encourage this kind of recklessness and risk-taking that has toyed with the lives of thousands of people, in a way that is simply impossible to truly comprehend.
And if you think about it, and you think about the outcome of this case, if they walk away from it, and at the same time, there are doctors who were prescribing too many opioids, okay, in a certain number of jurisdictions, who have either been indicted or convicted of charges, including manslaughter—
NOT A WORD : To the right.
CR: – when their patients died. It blows the mind.
NOT A WORD : The feeling is that somehow justice doesn’t have the tools to go to people who are higher in the mainstream, in terms of promoting something like OxyContin.
CR: It’s true. And it’s also, and I’m sure you’ve seen it in the coverage of the revolving door issues, where some of the highest-ranking prosecutors in history, for one of the most powerful districts, on the right , the Southern District of New York, well, let’s see, who are the prosecutors who worked for the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma? Former Southern District of New York District Attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Mary Jo White.
It’s hard to think that there aren’t many examples of these prosecutors. when they work for the Department of Justice, when they work for the public, do they see the corporate representatives who are on the other side, are they adversaries or are they peers, isn’t- it not? And what does that mean for how it ultimately plays out?
NOT A WORD : Exactly. Well, just if there was one question you would ask a reporter who came to this story about this bankruptcy filing, one question you would ask them to pursue, what would it be?
CR: I would ask them to pursue the question of where are the abandoned sons with the criminal investigation with the Sackler family,? The Department of Justice sued the company and reached a settlement, a civil settlement, with the owners, making it clear that the settlement did not absolve them of criminal liability, but where is it?
I’ve seen anecdotal mentions that people don’t think that they will be prosecuted. Why? What happened there? Who made these decisions? Was it for lack of evidence? Was it because, as we have seen in many other cases in Trump’s Justice Department, superiors have intervened in the cases of career prosecutors to reduce charges against corporate offenders?
NOT A WORD : We spoke with Rick Claypool, director of research at Public Citizen. They are online at Citizen.org. Thank you very much, Rick Claypool, for joining us this week on counter-turn.
CR: Thanks Janine. It was a pleasure.