After a three-year legal battle against OxyContin drug maker Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 14 other attorneys general have reached a $4.3 billion resolution with the pharmaceutical giant.
Just $90 million would be funneled to Massachusetts if the deal is approved by the bankruptcy court, but more importantly, Healey says, the company will be forced to turn over millions of documents chronicling the business of opioids.
“Today’s resolution delivers the most important things we’ve been fighting for: a reckoning that exposes their savage misconduct, strips them of their power, and provides money dedicated entirely to prevention, treatment and recovery,” Healey said in a Thursday press conference.
The deal comes after almost 500,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in the last 20 years, including 671 Massachusetts residents who filled prescriptions for Purdue opioids between 2009 and 2019.
In 2019, Purdue announced that it had agreed to a $10 billion settlement with 24 state attorneys general, but Healey, who first sued Purdue in 2018, opposed the settlement because the Sacklers did not contribute personal funds to the deal. The deal also didn’t require the family to release more than 30 million documents from the last 20 years to the public online, as this one does.
These documents include every nonprivileged email to or from Sackler family members who sat on the Purdue board or worked for the company. Purdue will also be required to waive attorney-client privilege, “so the public will see Purdue’s confidential communications with its lawyers about tactics for pushing opioids, security, FDA approval, lobbying, Congress, fighting litigation and investigation over the years,” Healey said at the conference.
Purdue will also be required to be wound down or sold by 2024, and the Sackler family will be banned from re-entering the opioid industry. The Sacklers will be unable to put their names on buildings, museums or other public spaces for the next nine years, as they have historically done.
The case will be heard on Aug. 9 in front of a bankruptcy judge.
Healey, who was the first state attorney general to sue Purdue in 2018, teared up as she spoke of the families and advocates who lost loved ones to addiction. “The future belongs to these heroes. Their voices will continue to guide our work,” she said.
Both Healey and Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged that the $90 million allocated to Massachusetts isn’t enough to overcome the pain these families lost. Baker added that these funds will be controlled largely by family members and others who have lost loved ones to the epidemic. “They have tabula rasa here,” he said.
Baker’s proposed state budget sets aside $357 million to treat substance abuse in the next fiscal year alone, four times the settlement figure.
The governor added that the stigma the Sacklers fueled around opioid addiction further allowed the disease to spread. He recalled how family members approached him and other lawmakers on the issue after, not during, public forums.
“They didn’t want to make a public spectacle out of their family pain, and the Sacklers benefited from that over and over,” he said.