HARTFORD, Conn. — Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Conn.-based maker of OxyContin, and the Sackler family that owns the company, are offering to settle thousands of lawsuits targeting Purdue’s role in fueling the opioid crisis for $10 billion to $12 billion, NBC News reported Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who is overseeing the state’s suit against the drugmaker, said he participated in a settlement conference last week in Cleveland with a group of other attorneys general, lawyers for Purdue and a representative from the Sacklers that formed the basis of the NBC News story.
“I can confirm that Attorney General Tong was in Cleveland last week as a member of the leadership committee of state attorneys general on the opioid crisis,” said Elizabeth Benton, Tong’s director of communications. “Connecticut is continuing to aggressively pursue its case against Purdue and the Sacklers. Beyond that we cannot comment on recent news reports.”
Tong had the same comment about aggressively pursuing the state’s case Monday after an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to curtail an opioid epidemic in the Sooner State with nearly identical origins to the crisis in Connecticut: deceptive marketing practices by a major drugmaker that ignored a rising tide of overdose deaths.
Like the cases that brought down the big tobacco companies, the Oklahoma judge found Johnson & Johnson culpable for knowingly creating a “public menace” and was therefore responsible for the carnage.
Similar allegations are at the center of Connecticut’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. In April, Tong’s office filed an amended lawsuit that built upon the case brought by his predecessor, George Jepsen, in December 2018.
“Purdue knowingly put its own exorbitant profits first when it … misled doctors by not just downplaying the terrible risks of addiction, but by forcefully asserting that opioid products were safe, that the risk of addiction was low, and that patients experiencing symptoms of addiction should actually be prescribed higher and greater doses of Purdue’s opioid drugs,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint goes on to say when Purdue Pharma “developed OxyContin, it saw an opportunity to reap huge profits. With scientific precision it designed, financed and waged a campaign, both pervasive and targeted, to mislead doctors and patients into believing that the new drugs were now safe to treat even minor pain. In truth, Purdue’s opioids remain so potent that they inevitably overcome the will of many users, leading to addiction, overdose and death.”
Purdue has denied it has engaged in false marketing practices or misled doctors. But in a statement responding to the NBC News report, the company acknowledged a settlement was under consideration.
“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. 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.”
According to NBC News, Purdue presented a plan at the Cleveland meeting to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy and restructure into a for-profit “public benefit trust.” More than $4 billion in medications, including some used to reverse overdoses, would be provided to cities, counties and states. The value of those medications, and profits from the sale of other drugs, would add up to a total settlement from Purdue of between $7 billion and $8 billion, according to the NBC News report.
The Sackler family would contribute at least $3 billion toward the settlement, financed by selling a separate global pharmaceutical company they own, and would give up ownership of the company, according to the report.
An investigation by The Washington Post earlier this year showed that the drug industry reaped tremendous profits by flooding some of the most vulnerable communities in the country with billions of painkillers. As a consequence, more than 200,000 people have died from prescription drug overdoses since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The flood of prescription opioids led to a dramatic increase in opioid addiction, from prescription pills to heroin and fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin.
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The prescription opioid tsunami struck hardest in working-class communities in the Appalachian Mountains regions of West Virginia and Kentucky. But it also has taken a toll in Connecticut. Between 2012 and 2018, 5,175 people died of accidental drug overdoses here.
“I think this is what shocks me the most: Purdue Pharma peddled this theory, a baseless, discredited theory, that the problem with addiction is ‘pseudoaddiction,’” Tong said in April, when an expanded state lawsuit against the company and the Sacklers was filed. “The patients, according to Purdue Pharma, weren’t getting enough opioids and that’s why they were addicted … if you just pushed more drugs on these patients, that would solve their pain and they would somehow become less addicted … the contorted, almost sick thought process behind that confounds me still.”
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