One day last spring, Ryan Hampton had a secret meeting with David Sackler, whose family business Purdue Pharma was accused of being instrumental in starting the opioid crisis. Hampton was co-chair of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (UCC), a powerful group that represented thousands of individuals and companies with claims against Purdue in an then-ongoing bankruptcy process. His job was to act as some sort of watchdog, and he had access to a treasure trove of sensitive material that Purdue and the Sacklers had to turn over if they were discovered. Hampton also recovered from a devastating dependence on OxyContin and other opioids. He wanted to confront the family who had made billions of dollars on a drug that had caused so much suffering.
Originally, Hampton had requested a face-to-face meeting with David’s father, Richard Sackler, one of the main architects of OxyContin’s success. But according to a new memoir, “Confused“, Which Hampton will publish next month, was told that Richard’s attorneys were concerned that he and Richard would” kill each other at the end of the meeting. ” Instead, David Sackler attended a Zoom meeting with Hampton and another UCC member, Kara Trainor. They had to agree in advance not to tell anyone about the meeting so that it would not become known that a member of the Sackler family was on the phone directly with an opponent during the bankruptcy proceedings.
At one point, Hampton writes, he asked, “Do you know anyone who has struggled with opioids?”
“Not me,” replied Sackler.
Hampton had often felt stigmatized as an addict. Sackler told him that he too knew what it felt like to be stigmatized – because of his family name.
“How do you think your family will be remembered?” asked Hampton.
“To be honest, I’m not worried about this reputation site,” said Sackler.
In a previous life, Hampton worked for Bill Clinton as a campaign officer. After a wandering injury, he was prescribed opioids in 2003 and became addicted to prescription pain medication, including OxyContin, and eventually heroin. He couldn’t have a steady job and lost his apartment. In 2015 he finally got sober – an experience he related in a previous memoir:American fixâ- and has since worked as a speaker and lawyer on addiction issues. Before Hampton accepted his role at UCC, he had an openly antagonistic stance towards the Sackler family. For him, he writes, they should “rot in prison”.
The status of victims in Purdue Pharma is complicated. There are indisputably many people who have died from overdosing on Purdue’s drugs. In “Unsettled,” Hampton quotes a sealed statement from 2020 asking Richard Sackler whether OxyContin kills people. “Sometimes,” says Sackler, “I don’t think the manufacturer was more responsible than the manufacturer of a car that was involved in a fatal accident.” Besides those who are dying, there is a wider community of people who, like Hampton, have struggled with the drug but survived. And beyond that, there is an even larger community of families whose lives have been influenced by addiction.
Purdue had been sued by virtually every state in the nation and by thousands of other plaintiffs. Attorneys-general in around two dozen states had filed civil suits against members of the Sackler family who had served on the company’s board of directors. This is what lawyers call a “mass crime situation,” but tort law would not be the mechanism to resolve it. Instead, Purdue filed for bankruptcy in White Plains, New York, in September 2019. American corporations can choose where to file for bankruptcy, and the company picked a judge from whom it hoped a positive outcome.
Earlier this month, that judge, Robert Drain, conditionally signed a controversial settlement on the case. The Sacklers will give up their interest in Purdue and pay approximately four and a half billion dollars over the next decade to fund addiction treatments and other solutions to the opioid epidemic. In return, however, the family receives comprehensive immunity from any future civil liability in connection with the crisis – and a comparatively small portion of the total compensation is paid directly to the individual victims and their families. The day before Drain approved the deal, Hampton resigned in protest. His frustration had grown throughout the procedure. Although he had sworn to keep quiet about his sensitive work, he also secretly wrote his memoirs. Unsettled is a report of his Kafkaesque experiences within Purdue bankruptcy, and it provides many new details about how a bankruptcy court is not an ideal forum for redressing widespread harm and corporate misconduct – and about the withdrawn family at the center of the Story. In Hampton’s brutal assessment, the bankruptcy was a “bloodbath”.
Purdue and the Sacklers argued for years that people become addicted to drugs of their own free will and that the company – and the family who owned it – should not be held responsible for the hasty decisions of others. In the 2020 statement, Richard Sackler said, “People who take OxyContin and abuse it are at just as much risk as they are from abusing illegal drugs.” For him, these people were not victims at all. They were perpetrators. Still, following the bankruptcy filing, Purdue launched a public campaign to inform those who may have been harmed by its products that they are entitled to file claims against the company. More than a hundred thousand people did it. At the UCC, Hampton was joined by three other victims: Trainor, who used the drugs herself and had a child born dependent on opioids; Cheryl Juaire, who lost a son to a prescription opioid overdose; and Walter Lee Salmons, a grandfather who helped raise two crisis-hit children.
But they were in the minority. The rest of the committee consisted of large institutional actors such as Blue Cross Blue Shield. In Hampton’s assessment, those firms that lined up for a remainder of Purdue were partly to blame. CVS, which also had a seat on the committee, has been a defendant in several lawsuits related to its own role in exacerbating the crisis. Hampton poses as an underdog trying to do the right thing only to find out that the game was fixed from the start. He wants justice – âpure justice as we read it in books and see it in films. The equilibrium in the galaxy has been restored, the bad guys have been defeated and everyone gets what they deserve. âBut he quickly realizes:â I was in a completely different league, playing by rules that made no sense to me. â
The legal profession, like any other, is a guild that tends to make its work sound too mystical and complex to be understood by non-lawyers. Insolvency law is a niche of its own within the profession. To Hampton, it appeared that those involved in the bankruptcy “all knew each other or had worked together in the past.” Drain was a former corporate bankruptcy attorney. Many of the lawyers who appeared on the case were repeat offenders in his courtroom. He was inclined to speak of non-lawyers in a mildly condescending tone, claiming that because they are not lawyers, there are many things that they simply do not understand.
In this milieu, Hampton felt like the child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and kept returning to fundamental questions of justice for the victims he represented. But he suspected that greedy institutional interests dominated the case. His contempt even extends to attorneys general like Maura Healey from Massachusetts and Letitia James from New York, who filed lawsuits against the Sacklers. He describes a particularly bitter loss in which an early plan for an emergency fund was abandoned to quickly allocate resources to communities battling the opioid crisis. In Hampton’s view, states wanted the money to be administered by the states, not at the community level. âThey are politicians,â he says of the attorneys general. “Many are there for political gain.” (In response to the request for comment, Healey and James officials stressed that all funds their states receive from Purdue and the Sacklers are used to finance prevention, education, treatment and recovery programs.)