Sacklers Walk Away From Purdue Opioid Settlement Talks

By: - September 9, 2019 12:00 am

In this Aug. 17, 2018, file photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Connecticut. Jessica Hill/The Associated Press

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, a lead defendant in hundreds of lawsuits aimed at holding drug companies responsible for the opioid crisis, has backed out of talks that would have paid states as much as $12 billion to settle all claims.

The stalled talks likely mean Purdue will file for bankruptcy and the first federal trial over the opioid epidemic will start next month, without the company that has been the focus of much of the nation’s outrage over the pharmaceutical industry’s alleged role in the public health crisis.

News of the impasse came in an email to peers from North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, a Republican, that was obtained by the Associated Press and other media outlets over the weekend.

Stein and Slatery wrote that the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, twice rejected payment structure offers from states and did offer counterproposals.

A reported potential settlement of $10 billion to $12 billion would have required the Sackler family to give up the company and contribute about $3 billion of their own wealth. That’s now been scuttled.

In the massive federal litigation, Cuyahoga County and Summit County, home to Cleveland, would be the first cases to be heard. The litigation combines more than 2,000 lawsuits filed by states, counties, cities, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and attorneys representing infants born in withdrawal from the opioids their mothers took during pregnancy.

In August, two other drug makers, Allergan and Endo, agreed to pay $15 million to the two counties to settle their part of the federal litigation, which is slated to be presented before a jury Oct. 21 in Cleveland.

Shortly after those settlements, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, filed a petition to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to halt or delay the trial in Cleveland until the state’s complaint goes to trial next year. He claimed that only the state of Ohio could speak on behalf of all its people.

“The rest of Ohio — and Ohio itself — is being left behind in the [federal] lawsuit in Cleveland,” Yost said, pointing out that 86 of the state’s 88 counties have no voice in the approaching October trial.

Last week, Mallinckrodt PLC, another major opioid maker, agreed to pay $30 million to settle claims against it in the federal litigation.

Earlier this year, Purdue and members of the Sackler family agreed to pay Oklahoma $270 million to avoid a district court trial there. A judgment in the Oklahoma case last month charged the behemoth consumer products company Johnson & Johnson and its opioid producing subsidiary, Janssen, $572 million for their role in the state’s addiction and overdose epidemic.

Purdue would not comment on the breakdown of settlement talks but said in a statement the company “believes a settlement that benefits the American public now is far better than years of wasteful litigation and appeals. While the company is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, Purdue has made clear that it prefers a constructive global resolution.”

More than 400,000 Americans have perished from overdoses involving opioids over the past two decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.