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Purdue Pharma Reaches Tentative Deal To Settle Thousands Of Opioids Cases


This afternoon, Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, reached a tentative deal to settle thousands of lawsuits stemming from the country's opioid epidemic. Details are still emerging, and it appears that some state officials may not agree to certain terms in the deal. But if the plan does go forward, the Sackler family will give up control of the company through a structured bankruptcy while paying billions of dollars from their personal fortunes.

North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann follows opioid litigation for NPR, and he joins us now. Hey, Brian.


CHANG: All right. Let's just start at the top here. What do we know about the settlement terms?

MANN: Yeah. This has been hammered out through intense negotiations with the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma and attorneys representing a lot of state and local governments who sued them over their role in the deadly addiction crisis. The details are still sort of coming forward, but what we know right now is that attorneys representing local governments have agreed to a deal that would bring the Sacklers to the point of giving up control of Purdue Pharma. It would go - the company would go through a structured bankruptcy and continue in some new form that would still sell opioid products, but future revenues would go to a trust created to help communities recovering from the opioid addiction crisis. The Sacklers themselves will also contribute up to $3 billion of their personal wealth and contribute proceeds from the sale of an overseas subsidiary.

Paul Hanly is one of the attorneys who negotiated this deal.

PAUL HANLY: We always would like to have a greater recovery in a case such as this, but we feel that the trade-off is Purdue going into a bankruptcy with no DEA and our clients ending up with a fraction of what they would get in this deal.

MANN: So in part because Purdue was threatening to file for bankruptcy, Ailsa, if a deal didn't get done...

CHANG: Yeah.

MANN: ...These local government officials agreed to sign off on this plan.

CHANG: Well, not every local and government official - I mean, it sounds like some state officials are furious about the settlement terms.

MANN: That's right. Remember, the Sacklers are hugely controversial. The sale of OxyContin made them fabulously wealthy. Forbes calculated their assets at roughly $13 billion. And some state attorneys general wanted them to forfeit far more of that fortune, including Massachusetts and New York state. So some of the states are saying they will refuse to sign off on this global settlement.

Here's North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

JOSH STEIN: The Sackler family has extracted billions and billions and billions of dollars from Purdue over the last decade. They are certainly among the most responsible for all the death and destruction that our nation have experienced, and they have to make a meaningful and certain contribution to clean up the mess that they helped to create.

MANN: So there are a bunch of these states that are suing members of the Sackler family directly, and those lawsuits appear to be set to still go forward.

CHANG: OK. We're hearing the word landmark being thrown around a lot today to describe this deal. What is so landmark about this tentative agreement?

MANN: Well, first, this marks a big moment in the history of this addiction crisis. Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers played a unique, pivotal role in popularizing the widespread use of these prescription opioids. So reaching a resolution that would cap their liability - that's a big deal. It's also a big deal if this agreement begins to funnel billions of dollars in settlement money to these communities that need help recovering from the addiction crisis. I was talking...

CHANG: Right.

MANN: ...Today to a local government official in Ohio who pointed out that five people died in her county from overdoses just in the last week. It's a public health crisis. So if this deal does expand treatment and health care for people across the country suffering from addiction, it could save a lot of lives.

CHANG: If this settlement does go through, where does that leave the rest of the lawsuits against the rest of the drug industry?

MANN: Yeah. This part is interesting. So a federal lawsuit involving roughly 20 major drugmakers and distributors and pharmacies - that's still scheduled for next month in Ohio. And some of those other firms actually sold a lot more of these prescription opioids than Purdue Pharma. So while this is a big moment, the legal fight over who caused this epidemic and who should pay to clean it up - that's going to continue.

CHANG: Absolutely. That's North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann.

Thank you so much, Brian.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.