‘You Are Scum Of The Earth’: Opioid Crisis Victims Testify Before Sackler Family

For the first time, victims of opioid addiction and families who lost loved ones to OxyContin addiction were able to directly confront members of the Sackler family, whose pharmaceutical company was responsible for a crisis that has cost at least 500,000 American lives.

In three hours of emotional testimony on Thursday, 26 speakers from 19 different states spoke in court before David, Theresa and Richard Sackler. The testimony occurred during a bankruptcy hearing for Purdue Pharma, the company that made the Sackler family rich by producing OxyContin.

The Sacklers — who attended via video, though Richard Sackler never turned his camera on to show his face —were not allowed to respond to the victims, according to Judge Robert Drain.

“It’s nice to finally see the Sacklers face-to-face,” said artist and activist Nan Goldin, who became addicted to painkillers after a wrist injury and staged a widely publicized demonstration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018 to demand the institution remove the Sackler family’s name from one of its wings. The family had discussed in a family group chat at the time how to handle Goldin’s activism, calling her “crazy.”

Goldin said during her testimony Thursday that the Justice Department should pursue criminal charges.

Artist and harm reduction activist Nan Goldin (right). She testified in front of the Sackler family on Thursday.

Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Other speakers included people who have lost loved ones to OxyContin overdoses, people who survived opioid addiction, and those who were solicited by Purdue Pharma. They shared their journeys with addiction; read poems written from jail; spoke about loved ones lost to addiction via organ failure, suicide and overdose; talked of homes mortgaged to maintain opioid usage and wedding rings pawned to pay for treatment; and laid bare the struggle of raising babies born into opioid dependency.

Stephanie Lubinski spoke of her husband Troy, a Minnesota firefighter who died by suicide while battling opioid addiction. Lubinski read her late husband’s suicide note aloud to the Sacklers, in which he said: “I’m sorry. I love you all.”

“Richard, David, Theresa, you have made an insane amount of money. … I have hundreds of thousands of medical bills to figure out on my own,” she told them. “You’re going to be remembered for being murderers.”

Lubinski, who has cancer, said she won’t be alive when the Sacklers pay victims or their survivors as part of a settlement agreement.

Ryan Hampton became addicted to OxyContin after taking it for a knee injury. Hampton, now in recovery, talked directly to Richard Sackler when he spoke.

“I pray you get exactly what is coming for you,” Hampton said, telling Richard Sackler that he “lived by the money and you may die by it as well.”

I hope that every face, every single victim’s face, haunts your every waking moment and your sleeping ones too. You poisoned our lives and had the audacity to blame us for dying.

I hope that you’ll 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 beeps along with a failing pulse. I hope you live the rest of your days burdened by the truth of what you have done.

Parent after parent faced the Sacklers, recounting the moment they found out their child had died due to opioid use. Cheryl Juaire had lost two sons — Sean and Corey — to addiction. Kate Scarpone lost her son, Sgt. Joseph Scarpone, to opioid overdose. Dr. Kim Blake heard the sales pitch from Purdue about OxyContin; she refused to believe it was “non-addictive,” and her son obtained it and overdosed.

Cheryl Juaire on Thursday poses for a picture with photos of her sons who died from overdoses, Sean Merrill (left) and Corey Merrill.
Cheryl Juaire on Thursday poses for a picture with photos of her sons who died from overdoses, Sean Merrill (left) and Corey Merrill.

Seth Wenig via Associated Press

Dede Yoder showed the Sacklers photos of her son Chris, who died at 21 after taking OxyContin for a knee injury. Donna Mazurek’s daughter Paige died at 22 of addiction after using opioids for a root canal. Tiffinee Scott’s daughter Tiarra trusted her doctors when they prescribed her OxyContin for chronic pain, only for her to die in 2020. Vicki Bishop told the Sacklers she wants them to see her son Brian when they close their eyes at night, because that’s what she sees.

Liz Fitzgerald lost two sons — Matt and Kyle — to opioids, showing the Sacklers a picture of her children. Ed Bisch lost his 18-year-old son Eddie to an overdose, and has been fighting Purdue since his death in 2001. Scotti Madison said his late son Trent was the most important person in his life. The courtroom filled with screams from a recording of the 911 call Kristi Nelson made when she found her 34-year-old son Brian lifeless in bed.

“I understand today’s your birthday, Richard. How will you be celebrating?” Nelson asked the Sackler family member. “I guarantee it won’t be in the cemetery. … You have truly benefited from the death of children. You are scum of the earth.”

In a 2001 email made public during OxyContin lawsuits, Richard Sackler referred to people experiencing addiction as “scum of the earth.”

Tiffinee Scott poses for a picture with a photo of her daughter, Tiarra, after making a statement on Thursday.
Tiffinee Scott poses for a picture with a photo of her daughter, Tiarra, after making a statement on Thursday.

Seth Wenig via Associated Press

Shelly Whitaker spoke of the suffering her three children experience after they were born opioid-dependent as a result of her opioid use during pregnancy. Kara Trainor said she managed to survive years of opioid addiction, but her 11-year-old son requires round-the-clock care for neonatal abstinence syndrome. Jenny Scully described to the court the several medical conditions her daughter struggles with due to being born with opioid dependency.

“It breaks my heart when she asked, ‘Why am I not like my friends?’” Scully told the Sacklers. “The only response I can give her is cold-hearted, ruthless people like you.”

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