A former OxyContin addict recently had the chance to confront Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family for their role in the opioid crisis.
“You know what you did. I hope that every single victim’s face haunts your every single waking moment and your sleeping ones too,” Ryan Hampton said in a settlement hearing for victims last week.
During the Zoom hearing, 24 victims of opioid addiction told David, Richard, and Theresa Sackler heartbreaking stories about what they had lost because of OxyContin.
Hampton was shocked by what he saw as the wealthy family’s lack of empathy and emotion.
“It felt like we were talking to statues,” he said in a recent interview with Fortune. “There were no nods or tears on their ends.”
Hampton shared his story of addiction and recovery, and said he hopes the Sackler family will be held accountable for their role in the opioid crisis that affects millions of Americans.
Promising life stolen by addiction
Nearly two decades ago, Hampton was a promising political organizer with a bright future.
His future quickly changed after his father passed away, and he moved back to Florida to seek treatment for a knee and ankle injury. His primary care doctor referred him to a pain clinic, and he was prescribed OxyContin.
“Visit after visit, I was told not to worry if I had a dependence on the medication. That it was normal and it was called pseudoaddiction, which I was told was not really an addiction, just the appearance of addiction,” Hampton said.
The doctors continued to up his dose of the medication, and within a few years he was completely dependent on the pills to function. Eventually, he started using heroin to mimic the high he initially felt from the pills.
After abusing opioids for more than a decade, Hampton was in Los Angeles, homeless and shooting up heroin.
“I had multiple overdos and was looking for a roof over my head at the time, and my mom pushed me to seek help,” Hampton said.
Hampton navigated the public health system, and eventually found medication-assisted treatment that saved his life.
“It was a nightmare trying to get the resources I needed to get help, and I am glad I got help when I did otherwise; I would’ve ended up dead,” Hampton told Fortune.
Hampton has been in recovery since 2015, and found work as an Uber driver after getting sober.
Today, he is an author and activist focused on justice for opioid addicts.
“People that I loved and cared about deeply were dying of overdoses, they were being denied access to health, they were being kicked out of hospital rooms, they were dying on the street corners just a few blocks from where I was living, and it really led me into this journey of what we can be doing as a community, as a recovery community to prevent this overdose deaths,” Hampton told Fortune.
The Sackler family’s role
Purdue Pharmaceutical, a company owned by the billionaire Sackler family, released OxyContin in 1996. At the time, the family also led the company. OxyContin was marketed as a non-addictive, extended-release prescription painkiller and was soon prescribed to millions across the US
Many fatal overdos throughout the years were associated with the prescription drug. As years passed and the prescription was harder to obtain, users turned to harder drugs.
Since the crisis began in 1999, more than 230,000 Americans died from prescription opioid-related overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, around 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the US While the Sackler family has never faced charges, they have paid criminal $235 million to solve civil claims against them.
In 2019, Purdue Pharma entered bankruptcy dates.
While historically, the Sackler family has expressed regret over the crisis, they have never apologized.
In 2007, and then again in 2020, the company pleaded guilty to federal crimes for its role in marketing opioids. Incriminating documents expose how some members of the Sackler family encourage the increase of prescription opioid sales. None of them have been charged, and there are no indications they will be in the future.
Hampton told Fortune that speaking directly to a member of the Sackler family gave him a closure.
Talking to the family directly lifted a weight off his shoulders, and made him feel he could move on with his life. He still feels, however, that the family needs to be held accountable.
The settlement, which still requires multiple actions to take effect, will provide around $100 million for payments and medical monitoring for children born with withdrawal from opioids and $150 million for Native American tribes.
The Sackler family was also called to give up ownership of their company and steer it toward stemming the epidemic. In exchange for immunity from future opioid lawsuits, the Sackler family is expected to pay around $6 billion.
Once famous for their philanthropic donations, the Sackler’s have also seen their name stripped from buildings including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Smithsonian, and Yale University’s medical school.
According to the Yale Daily News, the school released a statement saying that they had decided to sever ties with the family a year ago, but only made it public last week. As part of the settlement, the billionaire family has apologized for their involvement in the crisis and allowed institutions to remove their name from buildings.
Hampton has also done his part to move forward and wrote a book called Unsettled that talks about how the Purdue bankruptcy failed the victims of the American overdose crisis. He was appointed by the Department of Justice creditors’ committee representing over 138,000 victims in the Purdue case.
“I entered the case thinking that the Sacklers were the ultimate villains in this story, and had been planning on writing a book about them when I entered the case, but when I got into the bankruptcy process, I learned that the story was much larger than just the Sacklers, the story was the process, how deeply broken and inequitable the bankruptcy process is,” he told Fortune.
He says that big corporations and big governments collect their dollars before victims, and more often than not, they get more money. He says this is attributed to “the prejudice and discrimination that still exist towards people in recovery, families that have struggled, and people that use drugs.”
What the recovering community wants now are criminal charges against the Sacklers.
From day one, “not one single assistant United States attorney, or attorney general has indicted or had the Sackler family sit through a grand jury,” Hampton told Fortune. “The DOJ needs to do their job and stop playing politics with the victims’ settlement and needs to hold the Sacklers criminally liable,” Hampton said.
To increase resources and access to recovery, the federal and state governments need to step up their plans and funding.
“As an American taxpayer, I pay taxes for these services, but I don’t receive them” he said.
“Every single person has a role to play in helping to end this overdose crisis and preventing another Purdue Pharma from happening again. The role that they can play whether they are an individual impacted or a family member, or someone struggling right now is to hold their public policy makers accountable,” Hampton said.
Other companies involved
While Purdue’s involvement in promoting opioid sales is undeniable, many other large US corporations are also facing criticism.
Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health, Johnson & Johnson, and McKesson, have agreed to a deal worth around $26 billion combined. Most of this money is to be spent fighting the crisis.
In 2020, documents were also made public that showed McKinsey worked closely with Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family. Since then, McKinsey and Company made a public statement on its website expressing regret of its efforts to boost sales from OxyContin and other opioids.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com