At a hearing on Nov. 30, a group of U.S. states told a federal judge that an effort to resolve thousands of lawsuits against Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma with a settlement should be rejected. 

The states’ biggest concern about the settlement is that it would shield members of the Sackler family, former owners and executives of Purdue Pharma, from liability and prosecution. Those protections, the states argue, are improper. 

When Purdue Pharma was dissolved in September, the Sacklers agreed to pay $4.5 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits filed by state and local governments, tribes, hospitals and individuals against the company over claims that its marketing practices played a pivotal role in contributing to an opioid crisis that has killed more than half a million people nationwide over the last two decades. 

Critics of the settlement maintain that members of the Sackler family “are receiving protections that are typically given to companies that emerge from bankruptcy, but not necessarily to owners who, like the Sacklers, do not themselves file for bankruptcy,” said the New York Times

Attorneys General of several U.S. states argue that the Sacklers diverted more than $10 billion from Purdue Pharma and then used settlement protection to shield themselves from liability and to preserve their personal wealth.  

“If that is not an abuse of the bankruptcy process, it's unclear what would be,” Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell told U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon, as reported by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

The settlement does not, however, protect individual members of the Sackler family from facing criminal charges. No members of the family currently face such charges. 

A group of activists has been spearheading an effort to have federal authorities file criminal charges against members of the family who served the company in an executive- and board-member capacity.

A majority of states, municipalities and individual plaintiffs have agreed to the bankruptcy plan. However, eight states, Washington D.C., and certain Native American tribal nations are opposed to it.