Different standards of justice for a limousine accident and an opioid epidemic

Compare and contrast, please.

In upstate New York on Wednesday, Nauman Hussain was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison for his role in the deaths of 20 people in October 2018 after the brakes of a huge stretch limousine failed. Hussain was not driving the car. He instead rented the vehicle – and a jury found evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that before doing so he had not made sure it was safe to drive. For this, he was found guilty of 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter.

On Tuesday in Manhattan, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that members of the Sackler family, the billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma, will enjoy full immunity from all civil lawsuits related to the mass release of powerful painkillers that have addicted millions and killed thousands. (Although Purdue Pharma has twice pleaded guilty to criminal charges, the Sacklers themselves have never been charged.) The decision, the culmination of years of legal wrangling, protects the family at the top of Purdue Pharma and paves the way for the company’s bankruptcy restructuring in exchange for $6 billion in Sackler money that will go to help fight the epidemic their company has helped fuel.

The money is no small sum and will help people in desperate need across America, including here in New York, where opioid-related deaths have risen from around 1,000 in 2010 to more than 4 000 today. Nationally, opioid-related deaths now number more than 80,000 per year. Addicts need counselling, effective drug treatment and a range of other services to avoid being part of the rising death toll.

It would be easy to call the Sacklers personally responsible for all of the deaths and addictions, many of which were caused by fentanyl. But when their company created and marketed OxyContin, it did more than any other commercial player to fuel a public health crisis that is tearing America to the seams. Someone once said that one death is a tragedy (or in this case, 20 deaths), while a million deaths is a statistic. This is not entirely wrong.


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