Yurok Tribal Council Unanimously Rejects Proposed Purdue Pharma Opioid Settlement


The Yurok Tribal Council voted unanimously last week to oppose the proposed bankruptcy settlement agreement and restructuring plan for OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, saying it amounts to a “sweetheart settlement” for the billionaire Sackler family, which owns the pharmaceutical giant.

“There is no justice in this settlement,” Tribal Chair Joseph James said in a press release. “The Yurok Tribe is incredibly disappointed with the agreement because it does not hold Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family accountable for the damage they have caused in our community and across the continent. Everything about the ability of this family to escape consequences and responsibility for premeditated actions offends the world view of the Yurok people.”

The tribe joined approximately 3,000 other tribes, cities, counties and states in suing the company, alleging it downplayed the highly addictive nature of the opioid painkiller while continuing to market it aggressively, creating an addiction crisis linked to nearly 500,000 deaths across the country over the last 20 years, according to the Associated Press.

The company filed for bankruptcy protections in the face of the lawsuits and struck a settlement agreement recently through a court-appointed mediation. The agreement has Sackler family members pledging to contribute a total of about $4.5 billion in cash and charitable holdings toward the settlement, with the money going to fund drug treatment and prevention efforts. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the company would also make millions of internal documents public and give up all business interests related to opioid manufacturing.

But critics argue the proposed agreement does not go far enough, as it would leave billions of dollars in assets in the Sackler family’s hands while shielding it from further legal liability. Further, they argue it does not make the family admit wrongdoing or apologize for its conduct.

With several weeks still remaining before a hearing on whether the bankruptcy court should accept the settlement proposal, 10 plaintiff states and the District of Columbia have still not signed onto the agreement, though attorneys for Purdue have pledged to work to build “further consensus.”

It seems it would have a long way to go still to win the approval of the Yurok Tribe, which filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 against Purdue Pharma and more than a dozen other manufacturers of opioid painkillers, saying they are hugely responsible for Humboldt County’s historically high overdose death rates, which disproportionately have impacted Native communities.

“In the absence of the Sackler family’s insatiable greed, the abuse of prescription opioid narcotics on tribal lands would never have become the crisis it is today,” said Yurok Chief Justice Abby Abinanti said in the press release. “According to our world view, perpetrators of wrongs must do everything possible to make the victim whole in order for justice to be served. That is why Yuroks cannot support this sweetheart settlement for the Sackler family. They need to publicly take responsibility for their actions and invest every penny they made from selling OxyContin in restoring the individuals, families and communities ravaged by their purposeful greed.”

Read the full press release from the tribe here.

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