The Slatest

Purdue Pharma Reaches Tentative Multibillion-Dollar Deal to Settle Thousands of Opioid Lawsuits

A bottle of OxyContin.
Purdue Pharma makes prescription painkiller OxyContin. Reuters/George Frey/File Photo

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family members who own it have reached a tentative deal with a number of states and a significant portion of the more than 2,000 cities, counties, and tribes that sued over the opioid crisis, which was triggered in part by widespread use of Purdue’s signature drug, OxyContin. Overuse and abuse of the addictive painkiller have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

According to the New York Times, which reported on the deal Wednesday, most state attorneys general involved have agreed to the terms of the roughly $10 billion–$12 billion settlement. The deal would have Sackler family members pay $3 billion from their own wealth and relinquish control of the company. The family would also contribute another $1.5 billion from the sale of another company, Mundipharma, which sells pharmaceuticals internationally. (The exact amount and timing of the sale are both undetermined, but the attorneys general said they want the Sacklers to commit to $1.5 billion upfront. It’s unclear if the Sacklers have agreed to the term.) Purdue would likely file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after it makes these payments.

If the deal is finalized, Purdue Pharma will form a new company that continues to sell OxyContin but directs the drug’s proceeds to a public beneficiary company to pay the plaintiffs. Purdue Pharma will also donate drugs for addiction treatment and overdoses. The company will not admit wrongdoing.

Some states, including Connecticut, have reportedly resisted the terms of the deal, arguing that it is too lenient on the Sacklers. The Sacklers—whose wealth is estimated at $13 billion—have been accused of ruthlessly chasing profit at the public’s expense, pushing Purdue representatives to mislead doctors about the dangers of the painkillers and to advise them to prescribe the drugs at heavier doses and for longer periods of time than was necessary or safe. In one memorable detail from a memo filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Richard Sackler—then president of Purdue Pharma—proposed placing blame for overdoses on the victims and portraying them as “reckless criminals.” Purdue, for its part, has denied that its aggressive tactics played a significant role in the opioid crisis.

States that reject their share of the settlement risk a long and expensive legal battle, given the company’s probable impending bankruptcy, which could tie up negotiations in the courts for years. “If Purdue declares bankruptcy, then good riddance to this company that helped fuel the largest drug crisis in our nation’s history,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement Wednesday. “I, along with many other states, will not sign on to a settlement deal until Purdue commits to cleaning up the mess I allege they helped create.”

According to the Times, the federal judge in Ohio overseeing the cases has pushed for all parties involved to reach a “global settlement.” On Wednesday, a Purdue spokesman said the company “continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The deal, if finalized, would succeed in resolving most of the nearly 2,300 cases against the pharmaceutical company. But according to the Associated Press, only half of the states and attorneys involved have agreed to the terms.

Purdue Pharma is separately negotiating with the Justice Department over criminal and civil investigations, the Journal reports. Some states have also filed separate lawsuits against members of the Sackler family.

More than 200,000 people have died of overdoses from prescription drugs since the opioid crisis began, two decades ago.