State AG pushes accountability in opioid business

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been a leader in legal efforts to hold businesses and individuals accountable for the epidemic of opioid dependence and overdose in the United States, which has been linked to nearly 500,000 deaths over the past two decades.

Healey was the first of many state attorneys general to prosecute individual members of the Sackler family who own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin. She joined about half of state attorneys general in opposing the company’s proposed settlement in bankruptcy court. He calls for the disbandment of Purdue and its transformation into a new company that would use the proceeds from OxyContin sales to fight the crisis. Healey and others say it doesn’t go far enough.

Purdue and the Sacklers are defending the plan, saying it would take the business out of family hands and provide billions of dollars to deal with the opioid crisis. A U.S. bankruptcy court judge in New York this month allowed the company to begin asking creditors to vote on whether or not to approve the plan, which the company says is worth more than $ 10 billion. A hearing is scheduled for August.

Healey is scheduled to appear before a congressional committee on Tuesday to testify in favor of a bill that would clarify bankruptcy laws so that business owners and executives cannot use a business bankruptcy case to get themselves. protect from their personal liability. The legislation was inspired by the Purdue case.

Also this year, Healey became the first attorney general to sue a marketing firm, Publicis Health, claiming she had also played a role in the opioid epidemic through her work for Purdue. The company claims to have acted legally and that the lawsuit is without merit.

The Purdue bankruptcy is the most high-profile case in a complicated universe of opioid lawsuits across the United States that has drawn comparisons to the multi-state litigation against the tobacco companies of the 1990s. The Interview with Healey, which was held on June 3, was condensed.

AP: Purdue’s bankruptcy plan calls on members of the Sackler family to relinquish control of the company, with future profits being used to alleviate the opioid crisis, and to pay out nearly $ 4.3 billion over the course of the year. time. This is in addition to the more than $ 200 million they are paying in a federal settlement. Why do you think this offer is not enough to empower the company and its owners?

HEALEY: The Sacklers are not offering to pay anything near what they owe for the harm and devastation caused to families and communities across this country.

What it would do is pay a paltry total of less than $ 1.3 billion over the next five years to states, cities and counties. It’s far too little and far too late as they continue to sit on a fortune of at least $ 11 billion – a fortune built from sales of OxyContin and a fortune built at the expense of so many victims. across this country and devastation.

And the worst part is that they also went back to bankruptcy court with this proposal to basically buy immunity with a fraction of those returns. So, hey, this is their plan. They want to continue to be rich and they will probably be richer after paying the settlement than they are today. It doesn’t suit me and it shouldn’t suit anyone.

ÁP: The proposed settlement would give (members of the Sackler family) some immunity from civil lawsuits, but not from criminal charges. On what grounds, if any, could family members face criminal charges?

HEALEY: Nothing in the Civil Resolution will nullify or in any way eliminate the possibility of a criminal investigation or prosecution. I can tell you as a prosecutor that the government must make its case and that every individual has the right to a defense. But here’s a situation where we’ve sued Purdue and the Sacklers to get the money we desperately need to help our states, cities, and families.

AP: State attorneys general are almost equally divided on whether this is an acceptable deal. Why don’t you all agree on this?

HEALEY: When it comes to law enforcement, my job is to hold people accountable when they break the law, whether it’s rich and powerful corporations or rich and powerful people who seem to be in a position to buy the legal defense and team of lawyers they need to keep delaying and fighting this in court.

But for me, the responsibility is so important. It is important to the victims, survivors and families we serve and are elected to represent in our state. Accountability is important for fairness, for justice, for ensuring the safety of people and as a matter of deterrence to ensure that bad things like this do not happen again.

Purdue’s plan should require a public filing of every document in this case. We did it for tobacco; we should do it here. I strongly believe in it. The country deserves to know how Purdue and the Sacklers caused this opioid epidemic. We cannot continue to let them keep this a secret.

The Sackler plan wants the government to resume the drug trade, task us with selling OxyContin. Putting governments in a position to profit from the sale of OxyContin is simply perverse and grossly inappropriate. We don’t want it. Instead, we want a swift and orderly liquidation of this disgraced business.

AP: Earlier this year you filed complaints against Publicis. He’s a marketing consultant for Purdue. Why did you do this and do you expect lawsuits against other companies that work for the pharmaceutical industry?

HEALEY: During our investigation of Purdue and the Sacklers, we learned that Publicis was actively involved in consulting and providing marketing advice to Purdue and the Sacklers to help them increase sales of OxyContin. In doing so, they created a huge public nuisance. They have engaged in an unfair and deceptive violation of our consumer protection law.

There were a number of entities and perpetrators involved in this deadly and devastating opioid epidemic. And we’re going to continue to hold each of them accountable – or at least try to do so. We owe it to our families and we owe it in the name of justice.

AP: There are currently lawsuits involving claims against drugmakers in California and distribution companies in West Virginia. I wonder what the results of these cases will mean for all opioid litigation in the United States.

HEALEY: They benefit the public and the press because the facts are exposed. People must testify in public under oath. This is how accountability can be achieved.


Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

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