(CN) — Attorneys general of 15 states announced a $4.3 billion settlement Thursday with pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma’s controlling family for their role in the ongoing U.S. opioid epidemic.
Under the settlement, the Sackler family, whose company introduced OxyContin in 1996, will pay varying multimillion-dolllar amounts to each state for opioid addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, including over $200 million to New York, according to that state’s Attorney General Letitia James.
They will also be required to publicly disclose tens of millions of documents and recordings related to their sale and marketing of opioid painkillers and the lengthy legal battles that followed, including those which would otherwise be protected by attorney-client privilege, a coalition of attorneys general announced Thursday.
The 15 states that settled – New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin – are among 24 who did not agree to an earlier settlement offer that did not include the document disclosure. The group also gave their approval Thursday morning to Purdue’s plans for reorganization, which would require the Sacklers to give up ownership of the company and get it out of the business of opioid sales.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey praised the disclosure aspect of the settlement in a press conference with James and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison Thursday morning. She called it “a reckoning that exposes the Sacklers’ misconduct, strips them of their power, and provides money that will be dedicated entirely to prevention, treatment and recovery.”
The Sackler family, eight of whom were implicated in the suits, have owned and operated Purdue Pharma since its founding in 1892. A congressional committee estimated in April that the family had a net worth of around $11 billion, based partly on data from Purdue's bankruptcy proceedings.
Between 1996 and 2019, much of that money came from opioid sales, particularly the sale of addictive painkiller OxyContin. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 in the wake of a wave of lawsuits alleging that it had mislabeled the drug and downplayed its potential for addiction, fueling the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic. Opioid overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2013, and have continued to rise since. That rise has broadly been attributed to an increase in prescriptions for opioid painkillers after the introduction of OxyContin and similar oxycodone-based drugs, which Purdue marketed to doctors as less addictive than other painkillers.
James, Healey and Ellison said that the company’s bankruptcy proceedings played a role in their decision to settle. The possibility of the family’s money becoming tied up in bankruptcy litigation, they said, led to their agreement.
“Our job as AGs was to look at what our families needed and deserve,” Healey said. “We made the decision to deliver on our promise to our families for disclosure.”
James agreed: “I respect those who have not signed on, but I do recognize that this litigation could go on for years, and there are counties and subdivisions in New York that are struggling right now with this epidemic, and it was really important to New York to get these resources to them as soon as possible.”
The Sacklers will also be prevented from attaching the family name to any charitable donations until the settlement is fully paid out and they have completely exited the opioid business. Some recipients of the family’s contributions have beaten the attorneys general to the punch on that issue; in 2019, the Louvre museum in Paris removed the family’s name from one of its wings as litigation against them stacked up.
In a statement issued Thursday, Purdue said it would “continue to build even greater consensus” for its plan, “which would transfer billions of dollars of value into trusts for the benefit of the American people and direct critically-needed medicines and resources to communities and individuals nationwide.”
Ellison, James and Healey agreed at Thursday’s press conference that the settlement wasn’t enough, but was much better than nothing. They sought an apology from the Sacklers, who have yet to admit any wrongdoing.
“We’ve got to learn from these horrible lessons of this great tragedy. The Sackler defendants and Purdue were personally involved in Purdue’s deception,” Ellison said. “They intentionally tried to blame the people they hooked on this drug for their addiction as they were working to get them addicted.”
“The reality of the situation is that the Sackler family is primarily responsible for this crisis. They should own up to it,” James said.
“Clearly, nobody is happy with the settlement. Could the Sacklers do more?” she added. “Hell yeah. They should do a lot better. But it should first begin with an apology.”
Healey, meanwhile, said she was happy to see the family name headed toward the dustbin of history as a cautionary tale against unchecked greed.
“This is what’s going to happen to you,” she warned. “This is what’s going to happen to your name, to your reputation, to your goodwill.”
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.