NEW YORK (AP) — Angry, defiant and sometimes tearful, more than two dozen Americans whose lives were upended by the opioid crisis finally had their long-awaited chance Thursday to confront in court some members of the family they blame for fueling it.
They were unsparing as they unleashed decades of frustration and sorrow on members of the Sackler family who own OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma over the course of a three-hour virtual hearing.
One woman played a recording from when she called 911 to get help for her overdosing son, then called one of the Sacklers the “scum of the earth." Several displayed pictures of loved ones who died too soon because of their addictions. Many spoke about forgiveness, with some trying to find it — and others definitely not.
“I hope that every single victim’s face haunts your every waking moment and your sleeping ones, too," said Ryan Hampton, of Las Vegas, who has been in recovery for seven years after an addiction that began with an OxyContin prescription to treat knee pain led to overdoses and periods of homelessness.
“You poisoned our lives and had the audacity to blame us for dying," he said. “I hope you hear our names in your dreams. I hope you hear the screams of the families who find their loved ones dead on the bathroom floor. I hope you hear the sirens. I hope you hear the heart monitor as it beats along with a failing pulse."
The unusual hearing was conducted virtually in U.S. Bankruptcy Court at the suggestion of a mediator who helped broker a deal that could settle thousands of lawsuits against Purdue over the toll of opioids, generating billions for the fight against the addiction and overdose crisis and giving Sackler family members protection from lawsuits.
Appearing via audio was Richard Sackler, the former Purdue president and board chair who has said the company and family bear no responsibility for the opioid crisis; he is a son of Raymond Sackler, one of the three brothers who in the 1950s bought the company that became Purdue Pharma. Attending on video were Theresa Sackler, a British dame and wife of the late Mortimer D. Sackler, another of the brothers; and David Sackler, Richard Sackler’s son.
Theresa's and David's expressions remained largely neutral as people spoke on video about the pain of losing children after years of trying to get them adequate treatment, about their own journeys through addiction, and about caring for babies born into withdrawal and screaming in pain.
Under court rules, the Sacklers were not allowed to respond to the victims, who were selected by lawyers for creditors in the case. Some victims spoke from a law office in New York; others were at their homes or offices around the country.
Jannette Adams told of her late husband, Dr. Thomas Adams, who was a physician and church deacon in Mississippi and a missionary in Africa and Haiti. He became addicted to opioids after pharmaceutical representatives pitched them, she said. After a terrible decline, he died in 2015.
“I’m angry, I’m pissed, but I move on," Adams said. "Because our society lost a person who could have made so many more contributions. ... You took so much from us, but we plan to, through our faith in God, move forward.”
Kristy Nelson played for the Sacklers a tense recording of a 911 call in which she summoned police to her home the day her son Bryan died of an opioid overdose. The dispatcher asked whether his skin had gone blue; she said it was white. She said she replays the call in her mind daily.