The penalty for half a million deaths? A stern talking-to before Congress

Yesterday, two members of the billionaire drug kingpin Sackler family appeared before a Congressional panel. Kathe Sackler and David Sackler, heirs to the Sackler drug empire, were questioned via a video hearing. The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, the company that produces Oxycontin. 

They answered questions about their role in generating and profiting from the opioid crisis, which has killed more than 470,000 people in the United States. The option to testify before Congress instead of serving prison time is not one accorded to the 2.3 million prisoners in the United States, many of whom are incarcerated for drug and drug-related offenses. Drug offenses make up 46 percent of all convictions in federal prisons.

The two Sackler heirs were unrepentant for their crimes. “There’s nothing I can find that I would have done differently,” Kathe Sackler told Congress. Her brother David similarly asserted that, “The family and the board acted legally and ethically.”

Settlement slap on the wrist for death of hundreds of thousands

Just three weeks ago, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to federal charges including bribing doctors to unnecessarily prescribe OxyContin, defrauding the U.S. government and paying illegal kickbacks. 

“The pharmaceutical industry and the Sackler family in particular have criminally taken advantage of the for-profit healthcare system to get millions of people addicted to opioids so they can sell them for profit,” said Timour Kamran, a community organizer who lives in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, one of hardest hit neighborhoods in the country by the opioid crisis. 

The Justice Department settlement from these charges included fines of $8 billion for the company. Included in the settlement, however, was a loophole for Purdue to pay just 2.8 percent of the $8 billion fine if it agrees to settle the thousands of lawsuits from state and local governments.

Another $225 million fine was levied against the Sackler family itself. Although this number appears large this represents less than 2 percent of the family’s net worth. By comparison, for a family with a median income of $68,000, a 2 percent fine would amount to $1,360 as the price for causing nearly half a million deaths.

Kamran told Liberation that he views this extraordinarily lenient treatment for the Sacklers as being consistent with the government’s overall disregard for the victims of the opioid crisis: “Kensington and neighborhoods like it have been totally abandoned and left to deal with homelessness, violence and all the problems that come along with addiction on our own.” 

Corporate drug kingpins are given the privilege of choosing to appear before Congress in a video conference, while more than 2 million prisoners are forced into squalid conditions. This is what “justice” looks like in capitalist America.

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