It was not a Spring Day for spending any kind of time outside, but Kristy and Bill Nelson ventured out anyway.
A steady, light rain was falling with temperatures in the 40’s at the Washington Park East Cemetery. The Nelsons walked together, huddled under an umbrella. Kristy held a greeting card. It was her son’s birthday.
As they approached the Nelsons could see a small bouquet of colorful mylar balloons decorating the gravestone of Bryan Fentz, gone 13 years now.
“What I wouldn’t give to have him back,” Kristy said softly.
The then-20-year-old lost his battle with opiate addiction. It was a relatively short fight, just 14 months in all.
A one-car accident resulted in multiple bone fractures including a broken arm. Fentz was prescribed Oxycodone for the pain.
“I thought at the time they gave him a lot,” said Kristy.
Within months, the Nelsons started noticing things disappearing at home.
“Cash started going missing, our wedding rings, jewelry,” said Bill. By the time the Nelsons pieced it all together, Bryan was deep in his addiction. His drug of choice was OxyContin.
Early one January morning in 2009, Kristy found Bryan in his bedroom unresponsive. She frantically called 911.
The following is a transcript of part of that call:
KRISTY NELSON: “I need an ambulance. My son’s not breathing. Hurry!”
OPERATOR: “Is he blue?”
KRISTY NELSON: “He’s… white…”
OPERATOR: “How old is he?”
KRISTY NELSON: “Oh, God! He’s dead!”
OPERATOR: “Ma’am, I need you to calm down. How old is he?”
KRISTY NELSON: “(Screams)”
KRISTY NELSON: “He’s dead!”
Found in Bryan’s room were 80-milligram tablets of OxyContin, made by the Connecticut-based drug company Purdue Pharma. No opioid drugmaker has been pursued in the courts more than Purdue Pharma. The company has been blamed as a major contributor to the nation’s opioid crisis and the more than 500,000 overdose deaths in the US.
While not admitting wrong-doing, Purdue Pharma has paid billions in settlements to federal, state, and local governments. The payments pushed the company into a federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan, where recently there was an unprecedented hearting.
On March 10 via Zoom, 26 people who had lost family members to opiate overdose were selected to testify. The Nelsons were among them.
Required to listen to stories of loss, three members of the Sackler family: David Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Dr. Richard Sackler. All three are former board members of Purdue Pharma, which was owned and operated by the family for decades. The aggressive marketing of OxyContin netted the Sackers billions in personal wealth.
The person the Nelsons really wanted to reach was Dr. Sackler, who was not only the chairman of the Purdue Pharma board, he was also the company president. In emails revealed in Connecticut court records, Dr. Sackler wrote, “…if people die because they abuse (OxyContin) then good riddance.” In another email, Sackler referred to addicts as “scum of the earth”.
But on the day of the hearing, the Nelsons learned Dr. Sackler was granted permission to turn his camera off and just listen to stories of loss.
“That really bugs me. Well, bug is not the word. It pisses me off,” said Bill.
When it was the Nelsons’ turn to speak, Kristy went first. She started with the haunting 911 call.
“I hope they hear it in their dreams at night, because I do,” explained Kristy.
A transcript of her testimony includes this passage where she addresses Dr. Sackler directly:
“As I have grieved and cried endless tears for 4,804 days, you continued to peddle your poison. You continue to make billions of dollars while thousands of innocent people like Bryan lost their lives. Richard, you are truly a selfish, greedy, coldhearted, cruel, callous SOB.”
Bill also focused on Dr. Sackler, “When we are done… Richard will hang up his phone, if he hears the words we’re saying… and go do what greedy billionaire cowards do on their birthdays.”
Shortly after the hearing ended, the bankruptcy case was closed. The Sackers were allowed to move on with the estimated billions they accumulated from Purdue Pharma. The resolution of the case left the Nelsons disappointed.
“Justice was not served,” said Bill.
Kristy added, “Not in any way, shape or form.”