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Sackler Family To Give Up Value Of Purdue Pharma To Settle Opioid Claims

Sep 10, 2019
Originally published on September 10, 2019 9:23 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We reported yesterday that state officials are demanding compensation from Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for the company's role in the deadly opioid epidemic. Well, it appears that states attorneys general could be getting what they want from Purdue Pharma after all. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has some exclusive reporting on this. He covers opioid litigation for NPR and joins me. Hi there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So this is all about an email that you got last night from the company, right? What exactly did it say?

MANN: Yeah. So we've been, obviously, pursuing Purdue Pharma for a long time here at NPR to try to understand where they're at in these high-stakes talks. Abruptly, the company sent an email to NPR yesterday. And for the first time, they and their owners, the Sackler family, outlined publicly what they're offering to essentially cap their liability and resolve all these lawsuits in one big deal. And here's what they're saying - the Sacklers are offering to give up the entire value of their main company, Purdue Pharma. This is a company with annual revenues around $3 billion. They've also offered another $3 billion in cash, and they say they would forfeit income from the sale of an overseas subsidiary called Mundipharma, which they claim is worth another $1.5 billion.

GREENE: So they're suddenly going into all this detail. I mean, hadn't the Sacklers and the company declined to say anything or confirm anything? What - why are they suddenly forthcoming?

MANN: Yeah. Well, they're pretty clear about why. They're offering these details in order to dispute an account of these really contentious settlement talks given by state attorneys general over the weekend. Those government officials who are suing Purdue Pharma told NPR that they demanded guarantees from the Sacklers, that at least $4.5 billion would come from their personal wealth. In other words, they wanted any settlement to drain some of the huge, private fortune that this family amassed by selling opioids. The attorneys general said the Sacklers declined to make that commitment. Here's North Carolina's attorney general, Josh Stein. He spoke yesterday here on MORNING EDITION.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOSH STEIN: We needed more security on the part of the Sacklers, that the money that they were pledging they would in fact pay. And we didn't have that commitment, and the Sacklers rejected those proposals.

MANN: But in this email to NPR, a top Purdue Pharma official, Josephine Martin, pushed back against Stein, arguing that all these assets being offered up as part of the settlement are privately owned by Sackler family members. So according to her account, all these pay-outs would, in effect, come from their personal wealth.

GREENE: Why is that so important? I mean, if there's money on the table that could help communities who have gone through this horrible epidemic, does it matter what pocket it comes from?

MANN: Right. So this is interesting. The Sacklers are one of the wealthiest families in the U.S., until recently, known mostly for their philanthropy, supporting museums and medical schools. But documents, David, released over the last year show they pushed really hard to boost the sale of opioids, including OxyContin, often downplaying the risk, even when their own researchers were raising fears about the potential for addiction and overdose deaths. And now we're at a point where more than 200,000 Americans have died from prescription opioid overdoses. So government officials at that negotiating table with the Sacklers, they're under a lot of pressure to show that the family, personally, will feel some kind of real financial pain from all this. The Sacklers are saying their offer that they put on the table would cost them billions of dollars. But so far, state attorneys general is saying it's just not enough.

GREENE: Well - and they're saying that they're at an impasse. So, I mean, could there still be a deal here?

MANN: This part is complicated. Purdue Pharma is being sued by more than 2,000 state and local governments, so it does appear that some talks with some of those attorneys are still underway. But a deal still seems far off. And if this deadlock continues, Purdue Pharma has indicated it might file for bankruptcy - that might happen imminently. We're not sure about that piece. Or this could go to court. There's a big federal opioid trial scheduled for next month in Ohio.

GREENE: Brian Mann is with North Country Public Radio. He covers opioid litigation for us here at NPR. Brian, thanks.

MANN: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.