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Victims of the opioid crisis formally confront the Sackler family


Members of the Sackler family had to listen yesterday. A court required them to hear testimony from people who say their lives were destroyed by the Sacklers' company, Purdue Pharma. That company aggressively sold OxyContin. NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann was there. Brian, good morning.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you hear?

MANN: A lot of sorrow, a lot of anger. You know, this opioid crisis has killed half a million people in the U.S., millions more suffering addiction and loss. And that pain just came out in this court hearing. People who spoke in federal bankruptcy court put a lot of the blame right at the feet of the three members of the Sackler family who attended the hearing. They blasted the Sacklers for earning billions of dollars pushing opioid sales long after it was clear addiction rates and overdose deaths were surging. Here's one of the people who spoke, Ryan Hampton, who survived OxyContin addiction.

RYAN HAMPTON: I am one of the millions of people you preyed on to make your fortune. I am one of the living survivors of your monumental greed. You dedicated your life to ruining ours.

MANN: Hampton read there from his prepared remarks during an interview with NPR.

INSKEEP: Brian, I'm trying to imagine the Sacklers' response to this. I could imagine people feeling terrible that they're being accused of these things. I could imagine them rolling their eyes because they've resisted a lot of these accusations and they're still very wealthy. Do you have a sense of their reaction?

MANN: They offered no reaction. You know, this all happened on a Zoom call. David Sackler and Theresa Sackler were visible the entire time on screen. They showed no expression, Steve, no emotion, never spoke. Richard Sackler wasn't visible on screen. He was also silent. That lack of response was especially sort of poignant when family members held up photographs of their dead children. Cheryl Juaire brought pictures of her two boys, Corey and Sean, who both died of fatal overdoses, one just last summer. And I asked her why parents thought it was important to show these pictures.

CHERYL JUAIRE: Because they never want their child to be forgotten. We bring them out. We talk about them all the time just so nobody will forget them.

MANN: The Sacklers have long maintained they did nothing wrong in all of this, nothing illegal or unethical. They've repeatedly declined to offer an apology, though their company, Purdue Pharma, has pleaded guilty to federal crimes twice for its opioid sales practices.

INSKEEP: OK, so no apology, no special reaction to the stories being told. But did people get any comfort just from telling them?

MANN: Yeah, this was obviously a cathartic moment for a lot of folks. They said - they told me it was important to speak to the Sacklers, be heard by the Sacklers. Kara Trainor was addicted to OxyContin, and she says her 11-year-old boy is now disabled after being born opioid dependent.

KARA TRAINOR: It has impacted me, and now it's impacting my son. That's why I'm here. I think it was really important for our voices to be heard. I think that's part of healing and closure maybe.

MANN: So now victims have had their say, and Judge Robert Drain is expected to approve a bankruptcy settlement with the Sacklers, where they'll pay roughly $6 billion in exchange for immunity from future opioid lawsuits. The Sacklers fought hard to win that legal protection. This is a big victory for them. But I have to say, Steve, people who testified yesterday told me this hearing was part of an equally important fight to shape the way the Sacklers will be viewed by history. They were once one of the most respected philanthropic families in the world, and now museums and universities continue to sever ties with the Sacklers and strip their name off buildings.

INSKEEP: Brian, as always, thanks for your work.

MANN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Brian Mann is NPR's addiction correspondent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.