Members of the billionaire Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, have reached a deal with a group of states that had long resisted the company’s bankruptcy plan — a crucial step toward funneling billions of dollars from the family’s fortune to addiction treatment programs nationwide, according to a court filing, reported by The New York Times.
If Judge Robert Drain, who has presided over Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings in White Plains, N.Y., approves the agreement, the Sacklers would pay as much as $6 billion to help communities address the damage from the opioid crisis. In return, Sackler family members would get the prize they insisted upon for nearly three years: an end to all current and future civil claims against them over the company’s prescription opioid business.
The Sacklers’ liability protection would not extend to criminal prosecutions.
The deal still faces potential hurdles in the courts, but it is the first time in three years of negotiations that all states have accepted a settlement agreement with Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers. The new agreement includes an increase of at least $1 billion in the amount the Sacklers would pay. In addition to the family’s money, Purdue itself is contributing, through cash and revenue from future sales, payments expected to amount to $1.5 billion by 2024, with far more to come.
The agreement marks a significant moment in the national opioid litigation, an effort by state, local and tribal governments to hold companies across the vast pharmaceutical industry accountable for the crisis of opioid addiction that led to at least 500,000 deaths since 1999.
Though cases have been filed against dozens of companies, Purdue became the target of the earliest and greatest number of lawsuits, because its signature opioid painkiller, OxyContin, initially dominated the market.
“We’re pleased with the settlement achieved in mediation, under which all of the additional settlement funds will be used for opioid abatement programs, overdose rescue medicines and victims,” Purdue said in a written statement. “With this mediation result, we continue on track to proceed through the appeals process on an expedited schedule, and we hope to swiftly deliver these resources.”
While the deal is a breakthrough, it is likely to leave many people disappointed that members of the Sackler family did not acknowledge wrongdoing or any personal responsibility for the public health .
In a statement attached to the court filing, the Sacklers said: “While the families have acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription medicine that continues to help people suffering from chronic pain, unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis that has brought grief and loss to far too many families and communities.”
Other manufacturers, distributors and big retailers such as C.V.S., Walgreens and Walmart, are still defendants in opioid cases. A few have resulted in verdicts, with mixed outcomes for plaintiffs and the company defendants. Some significant settlements have already been reached, notably a $26 billion agreement last month by three major distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — along with Johnson & Johnson and states and localities, and a separate one with tribes. But seasoned lawyers involved in the cases said it will take years to resolve them all.
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