Just over two years ago, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in federal court to allegations that it misled health care professionals about the risks associated with OxyContin. To no one’s surprise, the company then sought to have those plea agreements, which included paying millions in fines, modified or canceled, so that it would no longer be legally liable for future misconduct and that its culpability would be passed on to others.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the company’s request, though not without drama. In a sharply worded 3-2 ruling, the court rejected an appeal filed by the company, stating that the case should have been remanded to the bankruptcy court to resolve the issue. The victims of Purdue’s misdeeds have seen all of the responsibility for their lost lives shifted from the company to their lenders, all the while the company is shielded from the full consequences of its actions.
How has that turned out for patients, employees and consumers? Perhaps more than any other pharmaceutical company, Purdue took to heart the maxim “make as much money as possible, while you can,” and that brings us to the other 97 percent of Americans who don’t know about Purdue’s staggering financial liabilities.
Former Purdue employees claim that the company should never have been allowed to go bankrupt, but instead should have been required to pay the full extent of its punishment in federal court. It was not so much the personal financial pain the company has inflicted on so many people, but the potential damage to the country’s pocketbook. If Purdue did end up being forced to pay for all the people who had been injured, how long would it have been before the entire financial system was exposed to similar risks and lawsuits?
As I recently reported in “Laws of the Science Fiction,” the terrifying possibilities of a Purdue-like bankruptcy went largely unchallenged for several years. It was only after the opioid crisis exploded last year and Purdue was forced to drop its assertions that opiate abuse was more of a function of personal lifestyle and religious views than doctor-prescribed doses of addictive drugs that the company became a candidate for a change in law. Many people have had no idea that Purdue has reported big losses in the past several years because of its losses related to the opioid crisis. When the company files for bankruptcy, that loss to the federal government turns into taxpayers who are asked to foot the bill for the full amount that Purdue would have lost at federal court.
Not only that, but Purdue’s owners have invested big in the presidential campaign of Scott Walker. If the Democratic party takes control of the White House and the Senate, a bankrupted Purdue Pharma could be included in a candidate list so big that anyone who voted for Walker’s candidacy would suffer from morally reprehensible voter suppression.
For those of us who have been watching the court case for years, this news will come as no surprise. A pharmaceutical company founded by a major influence peddler is keenly aware of the need to avoid jail time and also wants to make sure it gets to name the person who will decide the company’s future. Where a fine or a civil fine should be punitive, Purdue hopes that its bankruptcy will be a driver for the company to escape liability for any negligence or misbehavior that might result in billions of dollars in fines and the creation of a subsidiary that will sue the government for, well, essentially whatever the subsidiary finds to sue.
It is as though the CEO of Purdue knows that his company is not immune from accountability — but also knows that America’s drug policies do not place any value on accountability from companies such as Purdue. The victims of Purdue’s crimes, the nation’s taxpayers, will also suffer the consequences of that thinking.
The drug industry has resisted any regulatory mechanisms that will require manufacturers to consider, for example, whether drugs they sell will even have an impact on public health. Indeed, it seems like no one in the drug industry can be held accountable when they cause something that was never meant to happen, and all of their recommendations about how to reduce the impact of an ill-advised product can be ignored by the government. No doubt many of the dealers who are now acting as wholesalers to the very patients they marketed to will never see prison time. They just will not have any responsibility for those harms they caused.
Read the original article on The Atlantic. Check out The Atlantic’s Facebook, newsletters and feeds. Copyright 2016. Follow The Atlantic on Twitter.