An insider’s view of the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case, and how to fight for change without sacrificing personal recovery, with advocate and writer Ryan Hampton

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Ryan Hampton, an alumnus of the Clinton White House, had an up-and-coming career in politics until the early 2000s, when he became addicted to OxyContin, then heroin. After he entered recovery in 2015, he became a prominent advocate on addiction issues, from community-based organizing to national activities, such as helping to release the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on addiction.
More recently, Ryan came face-to-face again with Purdue Pharma—the infamous manufacturer and marketer of OxyContin, controlled by the billionaire Sackler family. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 to protect itself from thousands of lawsuits, and Ryan became the co-chair of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (U.C.C.), a powerful watchdog group that represented thousands of victims with claims against Purdue during the bankruptcy. Just a couple of months ago, the judge in the bankruptcy case signed off on a controversial settlement, granting the family immunity from future liability in exchange for a $4.5 billion payout. The day before the judge approved the deal, Ryan resigned.
I sat down to talk with Ryan Hampton about his experiences in the case, which he describes in his new book: Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis. We get personal, and he opened up about the way the case impacted his own recovery, and what he did to cope. We also discuss the insider details of the case, as well as how Ryan’s view of the problem evolved over time—how the case revealed to him that the problem is much bigger than the Sacklers or Purdue, and how it was an education in the deeper roots of the overdose and addiction crises. We talk about the relationship between advocacy and personal recovery, finding meaning and purpose in working for change, and what Ryan sees as the way forward after a dispiriting couple of years. I found it a wonderful lesson in working for change without succumbing to despair, as well as a stimulating discussion about what kind of change we need most today.
Find Ryan at his website, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. His organization is The Recovery Advocacy Project (RAP), a network of people and organizations across the country advocating for addiction recovery policies.
In this episode:
- How Ryan went from homeless and addicted to a nationally recognized advocate. (See his first book, American Fix)
- Burnout, and burnout as more than depleted energy or rest—how facing injustice can be a part of it. (For one piece on burnout and moral injury in physicians, which bears comparison, see this article.)
- Rigidity, ideology, and stigma within the recovery community, and how it hampers advocacy
- The crucial element of choice in recovery advocacy
- What exactly went on in the Purdue bankruptcy case? (see also this New Yorker article discussing Ryan’s work)
- how State governments were not always allies in the Purdue case
- A major shift in Ryan's thinking and values: his realization about how much deeper the crisis was than Purdue or the Sacklers.
- Ryan’s thoughts about how to work for change today.
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