WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday is hearing arguments over a nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would shield members of the Sackler family who own the company from civil lawsuits over the toll of opioids.
The agreement hammered out with state and local governments and victims would provide billions of dollars to combat the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers would contribute up to $6 billion and give up ownership, and the company would emerge from bankruptcy as a different entity, with its profits used for treatment and prevention.
But the justices put the settlement on hold during the summer, in response to objections from the Biden administration.
The issue for the justices is whether the legal shield that bankruptcy provides can be extended to people such as the Sacklers, who have not declared bankruptcy themselves. Lower courts have issued conflicting decisions over that issue, which also has implications for other major product liability lawsuits settled through the bankruptcy system.
U.S. SUPREME COURT
Supreme Court justices and donors mingle at campus visits. These documents show the ethical dilemmas
Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor's staff prodded colleges and libraries to buy her books
Inside the AP’s investigation into the ethics practices of the Supreme Court justices
Book sales, a lure for money and more takeaways from the AP investigation into Supreme Court ethics
The U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, an arm of the Justice Department, contends that the bankruptcy law does not permit protecting the Sackler family from being sued by people who are not part of the settlement. During the Trump administration, the government supported the settlement.
Proponents of the plan said third-party releases are sometimes necessary to forge an agreement, and federal law imposes no prohibition against them.
Lawyers for more than 60,000 victims who support the settlement called it “a watershed moment in the opioid crisis,” while recognizing that “no amount of money could fully compensate” victims for the damage caused by the misleading marketing of OxyContin, a powerful prescription painkiller.
A lawyer for a victim who opposes the settlement calls the provision dealing with the Sacklers "special protection for billionaires.”
OxyContin first hit the market in 1996, and Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of it is often cited as a catalyst of the nationwide opioid epidemic, persuading doctors to prescribe painkillers with less regard for addiction dangers.
The drug and the Stamford, Connecticut-based company became synonymous with the crisis, even though the majority of pills being prescribed and used were generic drugs. Opioid-related overdose deaths have continued to climb, hitting 80,000 in recent years. Most of those are from fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
The Purdue Pharma settlement would be among the largest reached by drug companies, wholesalers and pharmacies to resolve epidemic-related lawsuits filed by state, local and Native American tribal governments and others. Those settlements have totaled more than $50 billion.
But the Purdue Pharma settlement would be one of only two so far that include direct payments to victims from a $750 million pool. Payouts are expected to range from about $3,500 to $48,000.
Sackler family members no longer are on the company's board, and they have not received payouts from it since before Purdue Pharma entered bankruptcy. In the decade before that, though, they were paid more than $10 billion, about half of which family members said went to pay taxes.
A decision in Harrington v. Purdue Pharma, 22-859, is expected by early summer.
Follow the AP's coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court at https://apnews.com/hub/us-supreme-court.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department on Monday announced a new strike force to help combat illicit fentanyl trafficking as the U.S. and China step up efforts to stop the movement of the powerful opioid and drug-making materials into the U.S.
The Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force will bring together personnel and intelligence from throughout the Treasury Department — from its sanctions and intelligence arms to IRS Criminal Investigations — to more effectively collaborate on stopping the flow of drugs into the country.
The creation of the group is the beginning of the Biden administration's plan to redouble its efforts to stem the tide of illegal fentanyl after President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in California in November. At the meeting, they announced that China is telling its chemical companies to curtail shipments of the materials used to produce fentanyl to Latin America.
The Air Force is expanding a review of cancers for service members who worked with nuclear missiles
In GOP's proposed Georgia congressional map, a key question is which voters are legally protected
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ends 2024 Republican presidential bid days before the fourth debate
US is running out of money for Ukraine and that could hinder fight against Russia, White House warns
China has also resumed sharing information about suspected trafficking with an international database.
Mexico and China are the primary source countries for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Nearly all the precursor chemicals that are needed to make fentanyl are coming from China.
Among other things, the Treasury task force will analyze the financial flows of trafficking organizations, especially those that rely on cryptocurrency to move funds; work with local law enforcement in areas hardest hit by the fentanyl epidemic and use financial institution records to detect transactions related to drug and human smuggling.
“Combating the flow of deadly fentanyl into communities across the United States is a top priority for President Biden as well as the Treasury Department,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a statement. She said the new group will "allow us to bring the department’s unrivaled expertise in fighting financial crime to bear against this deadly epidemic.”
"Treasury will use every tool at its disposal to disrupt the ability of drug traffickers to peddle this poison in our country.”
The Biden administration has taken a slew of actions against fentanyl traffickers — charging powerful traffickers with drug and money laundering offenses and announcing indictments and sanctions against Chinese companies and executives blamed for importing the chemicals used to make the dangerous drug.
Still, fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the U.S. today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 71,000 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids such as fentanyl in 2021, up from almost 58,000 in 2020.
The death toll is more than 10 times as many drug deaths as in 1988, at the height of the crack epidemic.
U.S. lawmakers have proposed a variety of measures to combat fentanyl's explosive use in the U.S.
Many of the GOP presidential candidates have said they would use military force against Mexico in response to the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
And the leaders of the Senate Banking and Armed Services Committees, along with others, want to compel the Biden administration to declare international fentanyl trafficking a national emergency and pass legislation that would hold Treasury to reporting requirements and enable the president to confiscate sanctioned property of fentanyl traffickers to use for law enforcement efforts.
Treasury officials, including Brian Nelson, the department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, have been traveling to the southern border this year to work with local authorities on quelling drug trafficking through sanctions efforts.
Nelson will co-chair the strike force with IRS Criminal Investigations Chief Jim Lee.
Nelson said the strike force "will act quickly and decisively with the top specialists from across the department to nimbly respond to the newest threats.”