The family behind Purdue Pharma reportedly doesn’t want to sacrifice a bigger chunk of their personal wealth to settle the thousands of opioid-related lawsuits related to their crown jewel, OxyContin. But that might put them in the crosshairs of even more lawsuits.
For awhile it looked like the Sackler clan was willing to come to the table and make a deal if they could skip a blockbuster trial scheduled for next month in Ohio.
Then, the states suing the maker of OxyContin — the pill-sized boogeyman some blame for sparking the opioid crisis — asked that the family give up $4.5 billion of their personal wealth, after a previous proposed settlement had them forking over $3 billion and ceding control of Purdue Pharma. The higher number reportedly made the talks fall apart, according to NPR and the Associated Press. Two attorneys general involved in the lawsuit told the radio outlet that Purdue might forgo a settlement and file for bankruptcy instead. The company has reportedly been weighing bankruptcy since March.
“Now I’ll sue the Sacklers personally,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said on Twitter Sunday. “While they’ve moved much of their fortune overseas to shield their ill-gotten gains, I’ll do everything in my power to dig into their billionaire pockets and bring resources home to PA for those in need.”
A settlement agreement ahead of the Ohio trial is seen as the more straightforward way to put an end to 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, and it’s the outcome most preferred by the judge overseeing the consolidated cases in Cleveland. Purdue Pharma was reportedly willing to settle for $10 billion to $12 billion, and the company reaffirmed in a statement to VICE News that it still prefers a settlement agreement and that negotiations are ongoing.
“Purdue Pharma believes a settlement that benefits the American public now is a far better path than years of wasteful litigation and appeals,” a company spokesperson said. “While the company is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, Purdue has made clear that it prefers a constructive global resolution.”
However, an email obtained by NPR written by Josh Stein, attorney general for North Carolina, and Herbert Slatery, attorney general for Tennessee, read: “The Sacklers refused to budge” if their personal wealth is involved.
If the company were to indeed dump settlement talks and trudge ahead toward Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a U.S. bankruptcy judge would be responsible for supervising loads of financial claims from the cities, states and Native American tribes vying for a slice of a limited pot of cash. Meanwhile, the lawsuits against the company could be stalled. (The October trial would still continue, as it includes other drugmakers and distributors blamed for the opioid overdose crisis.)
And if that were to happen, attorneys general might very well sue the family behind the pharma juggernaut instead. Massachusetts already has. More than 500 cities, counties, and Native American tribes across the country filed a class action lawsuit against the family in May.
Thousands of litigious cities argue the company pushed OxyContin, which has done billions of dollars in sales since it was introduced in 1996, at the harm of patients and communities. The company has long denied the allegations against it, and further allegations that Sackler family members were the ones behind deceptive marketing tactics that promised the drugs were safe in the first place.
Cover: In this Aug. 17, 2018, file photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses protest outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)