OxyContin maker files for bankruptcy protection; Pa. attorney general says 'not so fast'

Mark Abrams
September 16, 2019 - 7:57 am
Aa pharmacist in San Francisco poses for photos holding a bottle of OxyContin.

Jeff Chiu/AP Photo, File

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy protection on Sunday, but Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro is among 20 state attorneys general objecting to it.

He objects also to a proposed $12 billion deal to settle legal claims against the company for the toll Oxycontin has taken on communities and families across the country.

"This is really a story about a bunch of greedy billionaires and that is the Sackler family — the people that own Purdue being unwilling to reach into their personal fortunes and pay for the damage that they've created here in Pennsylvania and across the country," Shapiro told MSNBC over the weekend.

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Shapiro says the bankruptcy filing will not stop lawsuits he and his colleagues in other states have filed against the company and against the Sackler family, its owners.

"The Sacklers have benefitted to the tune of more than $10 billion in profit from Oxycontin, which, by the way, has the exact same chemical make-up as heroin. It has led directly to the heroin and fentanyl crisis that's claiming the lives of 12 Pennsylvanians each and every day," Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the Sacklers won't share those profits. He says their lawyers want the attorneys general to sign off on the family selling other companies they own to fund the settlement and solicit their support for the overseas sale of opioids to pay for it.

Shapiro calls that course unacceptable and says he and his colleagues will see the Sacklers in court.

Purdue and its owners have expressed sympathy but not responsibility for the nation's opioid crisis.

"Like families across America, we have deep compassion for the victims of the opioid crisis," Sackler family members said in the statement, which called the settlement plan a "historic step towards providing critical resources that address a tragic public health situation."

It will be up to Robert Drain, the federal bankruptcy judge in White Plains, New York, to sort out what happens now — including whether those state lawsuits against Sackler family members can continue. Even if he stops them, he could consider the claims they raise in his court.

For Purdue and the Sacklers, the effort revolves around getting more states to agree to the settlement, which could make a settlement more likely.

"We are hopeful that in time, those parties who are not yet supportive will ultimately shift their focus to the critical resources that the settlement provides to people and problems that need them," the families of late company owners Mortimer and Raymond Sackler said in their statement. "We intend to work constructively with all parties as we try to implement this settlement."

The Sackler family was listed by Forbes magazine in 2016 as one of the 20 wealthiest in the U.S. In a court filing last week, the New York attorney general's office contended that the family had transferred $1 billion to itself through a Swiss and other hidden bank accounts.

As some states agreed to the deal last week, others expressed frustration amount of money, saying the family should guarantee more — and that the tentative settlement didn't hold the family or company sufficiently accountable for their roles in causing an opioid crisis that has killed more than 400,000 Americans in the last two decades.

In court filings, the family and the company have pushed back against accusations that the company played a central role in causing the national crisis by overselling the benefits of its powerful prescription painkillers and downplaying the addiction risk. The company's drugs represent a small fraction of the prescription opioids shipped over the years — and most fatal overdoses have been linked to illegal opioids such as heroin and illicitly made fentanyl.

Steve Miller, chairman of Purdue's board of directors, said on a conference call with reporters that an admission of wrongdoing is not part of the deal.

"The alternative is to not settle but instead to resume the litigation," he said.

He said as legal battles linger, the company's costs grow, leaving less for the plaintiffs in lawsuits.

"The resumption of litigation would rapidly diminish all the resources of the company and would be lose-lose-lose all the way around," he said. "Whatever people might wish for is not on the table now."

One likely result of the company's filing is that it will be removed from the first federal trial over the toll of opioids, scheduled to start Oct. 21 in Cleveland. After a series of smaller settlements, claims remain in place against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries along with drug distributors and one pharmacy chain, Walgreens.

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The Associated Press' Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.