Purdue Pharma offers up to $12 bn to settle opioid claims

Maker of Oxycontin accused of fuelling US opioid epidemic

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

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 $10 billion (€9 billion) and $12 billion, according to a media report on Tuesday.

The Connecticut-based company has been blamed for fuelling 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.

The potential deal was part of confidential conversations and discussed by Purdue’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, said the report by NBC News.

The New York Times reported that the settlement proposal involved the Sacklers giving up ownership of Purdue Pharma and paying $3 billion 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.

The news came less than a day after a judge in Oklahoma made a landmark ruling that a rival opioids maker, 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 $270 million, as did another defendant, Teva Pharmaceuticals. Johnson & Johnson chose to go all the way through trial this summer, before losing the case on Monday.

The company has denied wrongdoing and said it will appeal.

Civil cases

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 the NBC story on Tuesday but sent a statement to the 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. – Guardian News and Media 2019