Painkiller is one of the most sensational documentary series released by Netflix in 2023. It tells the true story of how Purdue Pharma created and sold OxyContin, a potent drug that gave birth to the opioid epidemic still present today in the United States. The TV show does a great job explaining how things have gone so far. Still, the trials, the settlements, and the legal actions against the pharmaceutical company, Richard Sackler, and the other members of the Sackler family are ongoing. Let’s discover the latest updates of this story, where the people involved are now, and if anyone from Purdue Pharma risks jail.
You can watch the official trailer for Painkiller here on Youtube.
The true story after Netflix’s Painkiller: where is Richard Sackler now? Will he go to jail?
The Netflix TV series Painkiller tells the true story of how OxyContin entered the American market, becoming the most popular opioid circulating in the United States. It’s a crucial part of the United States’ recent history, and it raised questions about the latest updates: where is Richard Sackler now, will he go to jail?
OxyContin was officially released by Purdue Pharma in 1996, after being approved by the FDA and government official Curtis Wright. OxyContin represented an evolution of MS Contin, a drug already offered by Purdue Pharma for chronic pain. The OxyContin molecule is much stronger and has a higher chance of developing an addiction.
After a massive marketing campaign pushed by Purdue Pharma, American doctors started to prescribe OxyContin in progressively higher dosages, reassured by the FDA approval and the statements from Purdue Pharma about the low exposure to addiction.
Unfortunately, the reality was different, and it quickly escalated to a real social problem, with the opioid epidemic that started at the end of the 90s and hasn’t stopped until today. The pain relief effect on patients tended to last shorter day after day, leading the body to need higher dosages. Moreover, people progressively started to abuse OxyContin for recreational purposes, leading to severe addictions and increasing the number of deaths by overdose.
From the beginning of the 2000s, more and more American States sued Purdue Pharma for deceptive marketing and misleading information about OxyContin’s addiction risks. The company always refused to take responsibility for the opioid epidemic. At the same time, in 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty and agreed to a $600 million settlement. This still didn’t imply any personal responsibility of Richard Sackler or other members of the Sackler family, and no one went to jail.
This represented the beginning of a long series of settlements between the pharmaceutical company and the United States. As the opioid epidemic got worse year after year, every single state had reasons to sue Purdue Pharma and demand responsibility for the increasing social costs of the epidemic. This led to the unprecedented settlement negotiations that have been taking place since 2019.
In September 2019, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy. The negotiations about the bankruptcy conditions are still ongoing: the company will probably be restructured into a public benefit corporation, and no member of the Sackler family will be allowed to be part of the management. The amount of the settlement will probably be more than $5 billion.
But the question viewers had after watching Painkiller on Netflix is about Richard Sackler and the other family members: will they be prosecuted individually, will they take criminal responsibility, and is there a chance they will go to jail? As of August 2023, this is still the hottest point of the settlement negotiation. One of the latest updates on the topic can be found in this article by The Guardian: the bankruptcy proceedings are paused because the US supreme court needs to confront Biden’s administration about the legality of the clause proposed some months earlier that would shield the Sackler family from future civil lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.
As of today, the bankruptcy settlement terms have not yet been agreed upon. Richard Sackler and the other family members are seeking immunity from individual responsibility and future lawsuits, but the shield related to civil cases has not been accepted yet. And that excludes their individual criminal responsibility, which is still an open possibility. The new negotiations will start again in December 2023.
As of August 2023, when Painkiller told the true story of OxyContin on Netflix, we cannot forecast if Richard Sackler or other members of Purdue Pharma will be prosecuted or will ever go to jail. Richard Sackler is currently 78, living in his house in Florida: he was never criminally charged for anything related to OxyContin and the opioid epidemics, and he has never declared personal bankruptcy (which is the main argument the supreme court has against the shield requested by the Sackler family).
The negotiations for the bankruptcy settlement could still take a long time, with the next steps planned for December 2023, and the eventual individual responsibility of the Sackler family member will be seen after a full settlement is agreed. To follow the whole story with the latest updates, you can refer to this article on Wikipedia.