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Purdue Pharma Tentatively Settles Landmark Lawsuit Over Its Role In Opioid Crisis: Reports

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has settled a consolidated lawsuit accusing the company and the Sackler family of being responsible for the opioid crisis.

Purdue Pharma has reportedly tentatively settled a consolidated federal lawsuit made up of nearly two dozen state attorneys general as well as more than 2,000 cities and counties accusing the OxyContin maker of being responsible for the country’s sweeping opioid crisis.

The company and its owners, the Sackler family, reached a tentative settlement reported to be worth $10 billion to $12 billion including billions directly from the Sackler family, people with knowledge of the deal told The Washington Post and The New York Times on Wednesday. HuffPost has not been able to independently confirm the reports.

Purdue and the Sacklers have repeatedly denied the allegations in the lawsuits, and the Times reports that the settlement does not include a statement of wrongdoing.

The settlement, which NBC News first reported Aug. 27 as a potential deal, was reportedly part of discussions at a confidential Aug. 20 meeting between Purdue’s lawyers and at least 10 state attorneys general.

The discussions involved the Sacklers giving up ownership of Purdue Pharma, and the company declaring bankruptcy and reorganizing as a “public benefit trust” used to fight the opioid epidemic. Purdue is expected to file for bankruptcy very soon, the Times reported Wednesday.

States across the country have launched legal action against opioid manufacturers. Nevada, Idaho, California, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia all filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma in June. In fact, every state except Nebraska has sued, filed administrative charges or promised to sue companies accused of being responsible for the opioid crisis, The Associated Press reported.

“This case arises from the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history ― the misuse, abuse, diversion, and over-prescription of opioids,” the complaint from Nevada stated.

More than 130 people die every day in the U.S. due to opioid overdose in a nationwide addiction crisis that has taken nearly half a million lives since 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The widespread deaths led the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency in 2017.

The CDC says that opioid overdoses killed more than 47,000 people in 2017, 35% of which involved prescription opioids such as OxyContin, an addictive painkiller. That is six times higher than the opioid deaths in 1999, the same decade Purdue Pharma created OxyContin.

Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma considered filing for bankruptcy to address the liabilities from the thousands of lawsuits accusing the drugmaker of misleading doctors and patients about the risks of prolonged prescription opioid use. Filing for Chapter 11 protection would have stopped the lawsuits, allowing the company to negotiate legal claims before a bankruptcy judge.

The settlement comes after Purdue Pharma agreed to a settlement with Oklahoma earlier this year that included $270 million from the company and a $75 million commitment from the Sackler family.

An Oklahoma judge also recently determined that drugmaker Johnson & Johnson is responsible for helping fuel the opioid epidemic and ordered the company to pay more than $570 million in damages. That ruling was the first of about 2,000 lawsuits trying to hold drugmakers accountable for the addiction crisis.

According to the Post, the executive committee of lawyers representing the thousands of groups in the consolidated federal lawsuit recommended the deal be accepted. But some attorneys general ― such as Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who sued Purdue and the Sacklers in state courts ― said the family was not contributing enough money from their personal fortunes created from OxyContin sales.

“The scope and scale of the pain, death and destruction that Purdue and the Sacklers have caused far exceeds anything that has been offered thus far,” Tong tweeted Wednesday. “CT’s focus is on the victims and their families, and holding Purdue and the Sacklers accountable for the crisis they have caused.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the settlement included more money from the Sackler family than the approximately $3 billion that was previously offered, according to The Associated Press. Brnovich told the AP that the deal was the quickest way to get relief for the communities affected by the opioid crisis.

The reported settlement comes just over a month before the massive case’s federal trial is scheduled to begin in mid-October in Cleveland, Ohio. While other drug manufacturers have already settled in the case to avoid trial, the Purdue deal is the first so-called “global” resolution that would end almost all of the cases against the company.

Democratic presidential candidates have been outspoken about their condemnation of pharmaceutical companies and their executives’ roles in perpetuating the opioid crisis. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) have both said drug manufacturers like Purdue should face legal consequences for their role in the opioid epidemic, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has directly blamed the Sackler family and called for the billionaire family name to be removed from Harvard University buildings.

This article has been updated with more details about the tentative settlement and reactions to it.

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