STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The owners of Purdue Pharma are just about ready to surrender it. The company that makes OxyContin reached a tentative deal that would settle thousands of lawsuits stemming from the opioid crisis. How's the settlement work? Let's find out from North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann, who follows opioid litigation for NPR. Brian, good morning.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: What are the tentative terms?
MANN: So here's what it looks like. The Sacklers would give up control of Purdue Pharma. The company would go through a structured bankruptcy.
INSKEEP: Oh, the Sacklers. That's the billionaire family that has controlled Purdue Pharma for a long time, right? Go on. Go on.
MANN: That's exactly right. So a new firm would be created. Any revenue from future sales of OxyContin would go to help communities struggling with the addiction crisis. Sacklers would also give up $3 billion in cash and contribute money from the sales of an overseas subsidiary.
Paul Hanly helped negotiate this deal on behalf of local governments around the U.S., and I asked him if this penalizes the Sackler family enough financially for their role pushing opioid sales.
PAUL HANLY: We certainly believe, based on representations made to us by their counsel, that these are numbers that represent a significant portion of what the Sacklers have available.
MANN: What's clear, though, here, Steve, is that even after this settlement, the Sacklers will remain one of the richest families in America. And there also doesn't appear to be any admission of wrongdoing.
INSKEEP: I guess that explains why New York state's attorney general, among others, are very unhappy with the settlement.
MANN: Yeah. We've seen a really fierce response from attorneys general around the country - Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states. The Sackler family is hugely controversial. A lot of evidence that they played a big role in pushing opioid sales over the years. And, remember; you know, 200,000 people have died. And now there is a very real prospect that members of the family will walk away fabulously wealthy because of OxyContin sales.
INSKEEP: Well, if some states, or even half the states, were to reject this deal, does the deal still go through? And is it a settlement?
MANN: Yeah, this is going to go to bankruptcy court, and there could be a whole lot more litigation and negotiation there if these states refuse to get on board. Billions of dollars are going to flow from this, and whenever there's that much money, there's going to be a big fight. There's no formula for dividing up the cash.
Meanwhile, one thing that's interesting here is that state attorneys general, even more of them now, are promising to continue suing the Sackler family directly, going after that personal wealth, even after this company, Purdue Pharma, ceases to exist.
INSKEEP: Well, I'm curious about that. Wouldn't a settlement effectively preclude other lawsuits? And if it didn't, wouldn't the Sacklers be refusing to sign off at all?
MANN: Well, that's going to be an interesting question. In fact, these attorneys general say that they think they can pursue the Sacklers and the money that they pulled out of this company over the years. A lot of the litigation focuses exactly on that question.
INSKEEP: What happens now with thousands of other lawsuits that focus on other pharmaceutical companies and distributors and pharmacy chains and everybody else?
MANN: Right. Negotiations going on right now with other big drug companies, name-brand companies like Johnson & Johnson. A federal trial is scheduled for next month in Ohio, so there's pressure to get more of these deals done.
One other big development, Steve, that happened yesterday is that the federal judge overseeing that federal case, Dan Polster, he approved a massive expansion of local governments included in his case. It now involves tens of thousands of cities and counties, other local jurisdictions. They all have a stake now in how this litigation plays out. So the pharmaceutical industry's financial liability for this epidemic is still potentially massive.
INSKEEP: Brian, thanks for your close attention to all this.
MANN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio, who covers opioid litigation for NPR.