Purdue Bankruptcy Might Not Halt All Opioid Lawsuits

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Photo by Karen Neoh via Flickr

Less than a week after the family that owns Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, rejected a demand that they give up $4.5 billion of their personal wealth to settle opioid claims against the company, the company filed for bankruptcy late Sunday.

In the intervening days, The New York attorney general’s office tracked about $1 billion in wire transfers by the Sackler family, including through Swiss bank accounts, “suggesting that the family tried to shield wealth as it faced a raft of litigation over its role in the opioid crisis,” reports The New York Times.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners are denying responsibility for the nation’s opioid crisis. Bankruptcy protection is part of a move to settle some 2,600 lawsuits, most from state and local governments.

“Like families across America, we have deep compassion for the victims of the opioid crisis,” Sackler family members said in the statement, which called the settlement plan a “historic step towards providing critical resources that address a tragic public health situation.”

Last week’s wire transfers are believed to be connected to a lawsuit against Purdue and individual Sacklers in New York. Letitia James, the state’s attorney general, has issued more than 30 subpoenas to 33 financial institutions and investment advisers with ties to the Sacklers to try to get a full picture of the family’s wealth.

The Sackler family was listed as one of the 20 wealthiest in the United States in 2016, according to Forbes.

There is an agreement with about half the states and attorneys representing roughly the local governments that would have Purdue file for a structured bankruptcy and pay as much as $12 billion over time. That number involves future profits. In addition, the family would have to give up its ownership of the company and contribute another $1.5 billion by selling another of its pharmaceutical companies, Mundipharma.

But states are divided on whether to accept the settlement with the company as part of the bankruptcy, reported CBS. Several of those who have declined it say that they plan to object to the bankruptcy and push forward with their claims against members of the Sackler family in court.

It will be up to a bankruptcy judge to decide if those suits can move ahead.

“My office is prepared to hold the Sackers accountable, regardless of whether or not Purdue declares bankruptcy,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement last week, reported the Associated Press.

Some states insist that the tentative settlement didn’t hold the family or company sufficiently accountable for their roles in causing an opioid crisis that has killed more than 400,000 Americans in the last two decades.

In court filings, the family and the company have pushed back against accusations that Purdue Pharma played a central role in causing the national crisis by overselling the benefits of its powerful prescription painkillers and downplaying the addiction risk.

“The company’s drugs represent a small fraction of the prescription opioids shipped over the years — and most fatal overdoses have been linked to illegal opioids such as heroin and illicitly made fentanyl,” reported the AP.



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