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States Call Purdue Pharma “Criminal Enterprise” After Rejecting Opioid Settlement 


Late Monday night, Purdue Pharma unveiled a bankruptcy plan that would dissolve the company and direct its profits toward those suffering and recovering from the opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma has been in the hot seat for several years for its role in the prescription painkiller epidemic, which continues to kill tens of thousands of Americans every year. The company is hoping to quickly settle thousands of opioid-related lawsuits, but some states and addiction recovery advocates say it’s not enough to account for all the damage, pain, and suffering Purdue Pharma has caused since the late 1990s.

Purdue Files for Bankruptcy

The bankruptcy plan would offer around $500 million up front to settle thousands of lawsuits related to the crisis, including states that have been affected by the epidemic as well as personal injury claims from individuals and family members who have lost loved ones.

The Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, has also agreed to pay out roughly $4.2 billion dollars over the next decade to settle additional suits, but the family didn’t provide a timetable for when the funds would be distributed. However, they said that around $1 billion would be available by the year 2024.

The family has also agreed to relinquish control of the company in the form of a public trust, which will help distribute the company’s profits to those who have been affected by the crisis. Under the control of the trust, the company will continue to sell OxyContin and other prescription drugs. It will also ramp up the production of buprenorphine and naloxone, both of which are used to treat opioid addiction and those recovering from an overdose. These two drugs would be made available to low-income communities at little to no cost to help them combat the ongoing crisis. 

“With drug overdoses still at record levels, it is past time to put Purdue’s assets to work addressing the crisis. We are confident this plan achieves that critical goal,” said current Purdue Pharma president Steve Miller.

However, under the current agreement, the family wouldn’t admit to any wrongdoing for their role in distributing the drug. They would also retain control of their overseas subsidiaries for at least the next seven years.

The plan still needs to be confirmed by a federal bankruptcy court in White Plains, NY.

State Attorneys General Want More

Within just a few hours of the Sacklers releasing the plan, two dozen state attorneys general immediately rejected the proposal.

The state AGs issued a joint statement referring to the company as a “criminal enterprise”. They point out that the Sackler family would remain one of the wealthiest dynasties in the country, despite their role in aggressively selling, marketing, and distributing addictive painkillers like OxyContin that have killed over 450,000 Americans over the last twenty years.

“What the Sacklers are offering is a way for the payments to be structured that makes it convenient for them,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

“This plan does not go as far as it needs to,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who added that the final deal must include “more money from the Sacklers.”

“That’s the most disturbing, the idea that they’ll walk away with impunity. To me this is the one percent twisting justice,” said Nan Goldin, an activist campaigning to remove the Sackler name from museums around the globe.

The AGs also claim the current offer doesn’t provide enough money in the short-term. They say the new agreement would “excessively entangle” these much-needed funds in an overly complicated public trust. They would like to see the Sacklers direct more cash to struggling communities, not just aid in the form of low-cost drugs and treatments.

“Right now, millions of people across the country are desperately suffering from opioid addiction. They need help and they need it now,” the state AGs wrote in the statement.

The Sacklers have already admitted to illegally marketing opioids to doctors and pharmacies to the Justice Department twice, including once in 2007 and again in 2020. They acknowledged that they withheld information regarding the addictive nature of OxyContin and other prescription painkillers, which helped them generate billions of dollars in profits.

As regulators and the legal system close in on the Sackler family, they are doing everything they can to make this mess go away. The company is reportedly offering $1 billion more this year to settle the claims than they did last year. Purdue Pharma is currently facing 614,000 separate claims, all of which would be included in the settlement package.

Critics say $500 million up front isn’t enough, considering how many people have been affected by the crisis. With state AGs largely opposed to the settlement, Purdue Pharma may have to go back to the drawing board.

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