The Opioid Suits Continue: Purdue Pharma Reaches Settlement with 23 States
As more companies, states, and families file suits regarding the opioid crisis, many claim Purdue Pharma has had a large part in the epidemic.
The drug that has taken more than 200,000 lives via overdoses since 1999 is breaching the forefront of U.S. news headlines and courtrooms. Opioids have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths from its many deadly forms: painkiller pills, heroin, and illegal fentanyl from places like China and Mexico.
Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the well-known painkiller OxyContin, reached a tentative settlement with 23 states and over 2,000 cities and counties that sued the company over its participation in the opioid crisis. There is considerable divide over the plan.
Should the plan be accepted, the family that owns the company—the Sackler family—would retain control of Purdue Pharma, admit no wrong, declare bankruptcy, and be resurrected as a trust whose main purpose would be producing mediations to combat the opioid epidemic.
If the deal is finalized, it would be the first comprehensive settlement in the national effort to hold drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. To date, Purdue has also settled with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million and won a victory when a North Dakota judge did not accept that state’s case against the company.
The company has seen the face of the opioid crisis before, too: in 2007, Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misleading doctors and the public about the safety of OxyContin and paid a $635 million fine.
While support and frustration with the plan is divided among states and cities, it has undergone a partisan divide, too. Namely Republican officials back the settlement, while many Democratic officials argue the plan is not enough. Among those states openly opposed are California, Connecticut, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein plans to sue the Sackler family personally: “These people are among the most responsible for the trail of death and destruction the opioid epidemic has left in its wake.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro agrees: “This apparent settlement is a slap in the face to everyone who has had to bury a loved one due to this family’s destruction and greed…It allows the Sackler family to walk away billionaires and admit no wrongdoing.”
However, supporters see the settlement as an opportunity to fund means to address the opioid crisis. “The proposed settlement with Purdue provides the greatest certainty for all Ohioans to receive relief as quickly as possible in light of rumored bankruptcy,” said Bethany McCorkle, spokesperson of Republican Attorney General Dave Yost of Ohio. In addition to 23 states, four territories support the deal.
Purdue reportedly plans to continue to “work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis.” The company says it supports working toward a global resolution that directs resources to the patients, families, and communities who are suffering and need assistance.
The proposed deal is said to be worth $10 billion to $12 billion, including a guarantee of $3 billion payment from the Sacklers over seven years. That could be financed at least in part by the sale of the family’s international drug conglomerate, Mundipharma, according to the Washington post. For more information on the proposed finances of the deal, see the Washington Post’s article on the topic.
While many are dissatisfied with the plan, many other officials believe the proposal is as good as they are going to get. Paul J. Hanly Jr. speaks on behalf of other attorneys general—Paul T. Farrell Jr. and Joseph F. Rice—and said, “We feel good progress has and will continue to be made.”
Many who oppose the settlement say that the fines are both unrealistic and not personal enough against the family. Some states objected that the Sacklers were not contributing enough from their personal fortunes, built largely on the sale of OxyContin. Others are concerned that the deal relies on assumed values of Purdue’s assets and the sale of its global drug company. Some states fear that these billion dollar figures are overestimated and that some of the settlement money may never materialize.
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said “The $10 to $12 billion figures are vaporous. I have not seen a deal that would yield anywhere close to those kinds of returns.”
While there is a pending federal case in Cleveland, Ohio against other drug manufacturers, distributors, and retail pharmacy chains, over 40 other lawsuits against drug companies are making their way through state courts. A number of states have also sued the Sackler family personally.
Last month, Johnson & Johnson was required to pay $572 million after the Oklahoma trial about the company’s role in the opioid crisis. Oklahoma also reached an agreement with Teva Pharmaceuticals, a generic drugmaker, for $85 million recently.
The opioid epidemic is affecting thousands of lives every day with more people addicted, hospitalized, and even killed. Regardless of the outcome of this settlement, parties around the country seem to agree on one thing: something must be done.