Purdue Pharma headquarters stands in downtown Stamford, April 2, 2019 in Stamford, Connecticut. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and its owners, the Sackler family, are facing hundreds of lawsuits across the country for the company’s alleged role in the opioid epidemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans over the past 20 years.| Drew Angerer/Getty Images
In the midst of America’s opioid crisis, alleged to have been accelerated by OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, about half of the nation’s attorneys general have accepted the pharmaceutical company’s proposed settlement and work with their lawyers toward a solution. The other state attorneys general have rejected the plan.
Among the former group is Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Out of the 49 state attorneys general who have declared a public position on the settlement, there’s an interesting partisan breakdown.
Twenty-three Democratic AGs, along with two Republicans from Idaho and New Hampshire, have rejected the settlement. And 22 Republican AGs support the settlement, along with two Democrats from Michigan and Mississippi.
Nessel’s office put out a statement on Sept. 12 confirming her cooperation with the opioid company’s settlement plans. In the press release, she acknowledges that many of her Democratic colleagues had chosen to opt out of settlement discussions.
According to the statement, Nessel’s rationale for doing so is her belief that the “infusion of funds” promised by the settlement would bring more immediate relief to Michigan communities damaged by the opioid crisis.
“I am committed to keeping all options open in an effort to provide relief to the residents of Michigan who have been ravaged by this crisis. While I have tremendous respect for my Democratic colleagues who have elected to opt out of settlement discussions, ultimately each attorney general is obligated to pursue the course of action which is most beneficial to our respective states,” Nessel said in a statement.
“I believe Michigan residents are best served by an infusion of funds into our state as quickly as possible so we can begin providing relief to our hardest hit communities and to provide assistance to those who are suffering from addiction.”
When the Advance reached out to Nessel’s office for more information about her decision, spokesperson Dan Olsen referred back to the original press release.
As previously reported by the Advance, Nessel filed a motion and an amicus brief on Sept. 9 in support of Ohio’s efforts to prevent two of its counties from going to court against Purdue Pharma. This was part of a larger plan, according to Nessel, to seek a decision on behalf of Ohio’s entire population instead.
“The opioid crisis has devastated communities in every state and territory of our nation. It’s essential that financial relief to address the needs of these communities be provided as quickly as possible,” Nessel said at the time. “… A decision in favor of these two counties could be devastating to a state’s ability to seek claims on behalf of its entire population.”
The settlement backed by 22 attorneys general would resolve claims over Purdue’s role in the national opioid crisis by declaring bankruptcy and remaking itself as a “public benefit trust,” with its future profits going toward the settlement. The amount could reportedly add up to as much as $12 billion, but many dissenters of the plan don’t believe plaintiffs will ever actually see that much.
On Sept. 15, Purdue Pharma announced that a settlement framework agreement had been reached with the cooperation of 24 state attorneys general. In accordance with the agreement, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in New York the same day, effectively stalling the more than 2,000 lawsuits filed against the company by state and local governments.
However, Purdue’s settlement “doesn’t hold the company or its owners accountable,” Massachusetts AG Maura Healey wrote in a scathing Washington Post op-ed last week.
Healey, a Democrat, writes that she and other state AGs against the settlement believe that it allows the wealthy family that owns the company, the Sacklers, to evade responsibility. The family made their estimated $13 billion fortune off Purdue Pharma profits.
“Accountability means making the Sacklers reach into their own pockets. It means telling the full truth. It means shutting down Purdue for good,” she said.
Healey argues that the Sacklers would not be paying enough of the funds of their own pockets, instead relying the future profits of their pharmaceutical company to pay off the settlement.
In other words, she argues, the bulk of the payment for those harmed by opioid addiction will come from the company – whose future survival is dubious at best.
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