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Opinion | Maura Healey

Bankruptcy isn’t for Sackler billionaires

Attorney General Maura Healey spoke to Wendy Werbiskis outside Suffolk Superior Court in August. Friends and family members of opioid overdose victims gathered on the steps while a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family was underway inside.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe, file

Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, are back in court this week seeking to halt the lawsuits that would hold them accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers made billions of dollars selling OxyContin, while thousands of Americans became addicted, overdosed, and died. The Massachusetts state court recently denied efforts by Purdue and the Sacklers to dismiss our office’s case. Now, they are asking a bankruptcy court to freeze our lawsuit and those brought by dozens of other states and hundreds of American cities and towns. Our actions to enforce the law should be allowed to go forward.

Massachusetts was the first state to sue members of the Sackler family personally for breaking the law. We built our case against Purdue and the Sacklers from years of investigation, prescription records, death certificates, sworn testimony, and thousands of Purdue’s own documents that they fought to keep secret. We found an intentional, illegal scheme designed to get more people using opioids, at higher doses, for longer periods of time. The Purdue patients who died of overdoses in Massachusetts included firefighters, homemakers, carpenters, truck drivers, nurses, hairdressers, fishermen, waitresses, students, mechanics, cooks, electricians, ironworkers, social workers, accountants, artists, lab technicians, and bartenders. In our state, the youngest known victim started taking Purdue’s opioids at 16 and died when he was 18 years old.


Last month, Purdue filed for bankruptcy. That’s fine. Shutting down Purdue can help to end a painful chapter, in which far too many families in Massachusetts lost people they love.

Unfortunately, Purdue’s actions suggest it’s less interested in closing the company than in protecting the Sackler billions. Purdue has asked the bankruptcy court in New York to stop all the lawsuits, not just against the company, but against the Sacklers themselves. That’s wrong. The Sacklers aren’t bankrupt. As sales of OxyContin soared across the country, they extracted billions from Purdue. A witness recently testified that Purdue paid the Sacklers as much as $13 billion.


We’re not going to let the Sacklers walk away. A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from across the country is fighting for real accountability. The public deserves to know the whole truth about what Purdue and the Sacklers did. The evidence should be on the Internet for all to see. The public deserves money for treatment and recovery. And families deserve to see justice done here, in a Massachusetts courtroom.

On Friday, our team will argue before the bankruptcy court for our case against the Sacklers to continue. We have to show the court that proceeding with the litigation is in the public interest. We will not be alone. We’re joined by partners from across the state who wrote to the bankruptcy court to explain why our case matters to them, including Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, leaders in the recovery community, health care providers, behavioral health advocates, and organized labor. Our team is strong because we’re working for justice.

Bankruptcy isn’t for billionaires. Owning your own drug company is not a license to hurt people or break the law. To protect our families and our values, we’re fighting to expose all the facts, tell the whole story, and get real accountability. We will keep doing it, for as long as it takes, until justice is done.

Maura Healey is the Massachusetts attorney general.