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Opioid crisis:OxyContin maker offers up to $12bn to settle more than 2,000 opioid claims

Purdue Pharma stands accused of fueling US opioid epidemic that has cost the lives of more than 400,000 people across the US

Purdue Pharma and members of the multi-billionaire Sackler family , who own the company that makes the prescription painkiller OxyContin, have offered to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits from US states and cities for between $10bn and $12bn.

The Connecticut-based company has been blamed for fueling the opioids crisis , which has cost the lives of more than 400,000 people across the US in the last 20 years and still kills 130 through overdoses every day, according to government figures.

Settlement talks that have been going on for over a year appear to be approaching a climax and will be further accelerated by a landmark ruling in Oklahoma on Monday, where another pharmaceutical giant, Johnson & Johnson, lost at trial in a civil case brought by the state and was ordered to pay out $572m. Purdue previously settled in that case, as did another drug company, before it reached the trial stage.

The deal now potentially to be struck by Purdue was part of confidential conversations and discussed by the company’s lawyers at a meeting in Cleveland last week, with 10 state attorneys general and plaintiffs from some of the hundreds of cities and counties that have sued Purdue, which was revealed in a report by NBC News on Tuesday afternoon.

And the New York Times reported that the settlement proposal involved the Sacklers giving up ownership of Purdue Pharma and paying $3bn of their own money towards the settlement. The deal would include a bankruptcy filing that would turn the company into a “public beneficiary trust”, which would allow profits to go to plaintiffs, it reported. If parties agree, Purdue would be the first of a raft of pharmaceutical companies being sued to settle all the claims.

The news came less than a day after the judge in Oklahoma said that Purdue rival Johnson & Johnson, via its Janssen company, had run a “false and dangerous” sales campaign responsible for causing addiction and death as it drove America’s opioid epidemic in that state.

Purdue had been a defendant in that case but settled in May for $270m, as did another defendant, Teva Pharmaceuticals. Johnson & Johnson was accused of using a “cunning scheme ” to market its opioids.
Monday’s verdict, with damning opinions issued by the judge, immediately signaled wide-ranging consequences for the other opioid makers, distributors and pharmacy chains facing thousands of lawsuits across the country.

The company has denied wrongdoing and said it will appeal.

But Purdue and other companies, as well as a group of eight members of the Sackler family that wholly owns Purdue, still face civil court cases brought by Massachusetts, New York and numerous other states, and a multi-district case playing out in federal court in Cleveland that brings together suits by almost 2,000 US cities and counties.

The first trials in that giant case in Cleveland are due to start in October and lawyers for Purdue, its owners and other companies have been in talks for months to try to hammer out a settlement.

A spokeswoman for Purdue Pharma declined to comment on the details of settlement talks but sent a statement to Guardian.

It read: “While Purdue Pharma is prepared to defend itself vigorously in the opioid litigation, the company has made clear that it sees little good coming from years of wasteful litigation and appeals. The people and communities affected by the opioid crisis need help now.”

The statement continued: “Purdue believes a constructive global resolution is the best path forward, and the company is actively working with the state attorneys general and other plaintiffs to achieve this outcome.”

Purdue Pharma and leading Sackler family members Richard, Beverly, Theresa, Kathe, Ilene, Mortimer Jr, David and Jonathan Sackler have vigorously denied any wrongdoing in relation to the opioids crisis.
David Sackler led last week’s negotiations on behalf of the family, according to NBC.

A request for comment has been submitted to representatives of the Sacklers.

The core members of the family and their immediate relatives are understood to be collectively worth at least $13bn and have long been at odds with other, less wealthy parts of the family who have not been involved with Purdue Pharma and its lucrative OxyContin narcotic, over blame for the US opioids crisis .

The Sacklers’ part of any settlement deal, on behalf of the eight members of the family being sued, would probably be obtained by selling off Mundipharma , according to the NBC report, a separate global pharmaceutical company they own, which has itself come under fire for efforts to expand opioids sales in other countries.

Purdue is being sued by states, counties and cities coast to coast.

“Our mission here has always been clear – make Purdue Pharma and the other manufacturers and distributors pay for what they did to Pennsylvania and its people, and put the Sackler family out of the opioid business for good,” said Jacklin Rhoads, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, who has staffers at the Cleveland negotiations.


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