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Healey Explains Why She — And Many Other AGs — Are Still Fighting The Tentative Purdue Pharma Deal

This 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills. (Toby Talbot/AP)
This 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills. (Toby Talbot/AP)

The flurry of activity continues as Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, negotiates with hundreds of attorneys try to settle lawsuits filed by more than 2,000 municipal governments across the nation. But at this point, 26 state attorneys general, including the District of Columbia, have not signed on, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

"The majority of states are rejecting this proposed deal," Healey said Thursday on WBUR’s Here and Now.

That count is important, sources familiar with the deal but not authorized to speak publicly tell WBUR. Purdue is expected to file for bankruptcy as part of this deal. If a majority of state attorneys general try to block that filing, it may be hard for a bankruptcy court judge to approve the plan.

Two states, Oklahoma and Kentucky, have already settled with Purdue. Another 23 attorneys general have said they support the tentative agreement, with some saying it's the best payout they expect to get.

“Sadly, this agreement cannot bring back those who have lost their lives to opioid abuse, but it will help Florida gain access to more life-saving resources and bolster our efforts to end this deadly epidemic,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, said. “I want to assure Floridians that we will continue to aggressively pursue our state case against all remaining defendants.”

Healey did not respond directly to a question about whether pressing for more money from the Sacklers might leave states with less than what's on the table now. But attorneys general opposed to the offer, including Healey, warn the deal isn't worth even half of what Purdue claims it is.

"We know from Purdue’s own documents that it could be worth as little as $4 billion, not the $10-$12 billion that they’re trying to purport this to be," Healey said.

And, says Healey, it doesn't touch the personal wealth of the Sackler family which owns Purdue.

"Over the last few decades they’ve made billions of dollars through the sale of Oxycotin, but they’re not giving that money back," Healey said. "And that we absolutely have to reject."

Sources familiar with the agreement say the Sackler's promised $3 billion contribution would come from the sale of their international pharmaceutical firm, Mundipharma. It might raise up to $4.5 billion, depending on the value of the sale.

Families who've lost loved ones to an opioid overdose see a perverse incentive in another piece of the agreement: funds derived from the ongoing sales of Oxycontin. Purdue Pharma would become a "public beneficiary trust" and profits would flow to communities covered by the settlement.

"It just doesn't sit well with me that this drug that has killed so many of our children, states would now benefit by selling more of it," said Rhonda Lotti of Watertown. "I have a lot of trouble with that."

Lotti's daughter Mariah overdosed on opioids and died in 2011.

Lotti and other parents say they want the Sacklers held accountable for the damage they allegedly caused with aggressive marketing strategies for Oxycontin that downplayed the risks of addiction. That accountability includes access to millions of documents that would not be released under the proposed settlement, according to attorneys involved in the case. In the deal, Purdue would not admit to any wrongdoing.

In a statement, members of the Sackler family urged governments to sign on to the settlement terms, saying it will fund solutions to the crisis rather than continue “endless litigation.”

Healey's office says she'll continue to pursue the Sacklers in state court. It's not clear if Purdue's expected bankruptcy filing would put a hold on state-based lawsuits against family members and other current or former company directors. It appears that many of the attorneys general opposed to the federal settlement with Purdue are already pursuing the company's owners in separate state cases.

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Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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