Purdue Pharma tentatively settles thousands of opioid cases

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – Purdue Pharma and its owners, members of the Sackler family, have tentatively reached a wide-ranging settlement with lawyers representing thousands of municipal governments, states and tribes nationwide that are suing the pharmaceutical industry for the devastation resulting from the opioid epidemic.

The deal is a landmark moment in the long-running effort to compel Purdue Pharma, the company whose signature opioid, OxyContin, is seen as an early driver of the crisis, and its owners, the Sacklers, to face a reckoning for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people from overdoses and the calamitous systemic costs.

Specifics of the settlement have yet to be hammered out, but according to two people involved in the negotiations, the broad contours of the deal would involve Purdue filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The company would be dissolved, and a new one would be formed to continue selling OxyContin and other medicines, with the profits used to pay the plaintiffs.

Purdue Pharma also would donate drugs for addiction treatment and overdose reversal.

Under the deal, the Sackler family would pay US$3 billion (S$4 billion) in cash over seven years.

The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing.

The tentative deal would not put to rest claims by a majority of the nation’s states, whose attorneys general quickly denounced the proposal and vowed to pursue the Sackler fortune.

Lawyers supporting the deal said that they prefer to have an agreement with Purdue rather than face the uncertainty of protracted litigation with no guarantee of a better outcome.

Herbert Slatery, the Tennessee attorney-general, called it a significant step to “obtain meaningful relief to address the opioid crisis.”

But because the deal falls short of what some state attorneys-general were seeking, they have said that they will continue to pursue the Sacklers.

In recent weeks, perhaps in anticipation of legal fortresses built by the Sacklers to guard their fortune, which Forbes estimated to be about US$13 billion, more states, including Virginia, New Mexico and Delaware, filed cases against members of the family.

“Connecticut has not agreed to any settlement,” William Tong, the state’s attorney-general, said in a statement.

He added: “I cannot predict whether Purdue will seek bankruptcy, but all I can say is we are ready to aggressively pursue this case wherever it goes – whether it is in the Connecticut courts or through bankruptcy.”

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