Penn. AG: How Proposed Settlement With Purdue Pharma Falls Short

Sep 16, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A drug company owned by one of the wealthiest families in America filed for bankruptcy last night. The company is Purdue Pharma, which makes the opioid painkiller Oxycontin. This move was expected as part of a tentative settlement between Purdue Pharma and more than 2,000 local governments and a couple dozen states. The company says this deal will provide relief to communities that are hit by the opioid crisis.

Several state attorneys general have not agreed to the settlement, and we're joined by one of them now. Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro is a Democrat and no relation to me.

Welcome back to the program.

JOSH SHAPIRO: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This idea behind the settlement is that Purdue Pharma would be dissolved, and a new company would be created to sell Oxycontin and other drugs. Then proceeds would go to the plaintiffs. In your mind, what's wrong with this arrangement?

SHAPIRO: The premise of it, I think, is incredibly faulty and somewhat laughable. The idea that we are going to profit off of continued sales of opioids, the very product that is getting people hooked on heroin and fentanyl and leading to the loss of 12 lives every single day in Pennsylvania, is problematic at best. In addition to that, the proposed settlement that was put forth dramatically underfunds the need that we have here in Pennsylvania and across the country. And then finally, for many people, it's less about money and more about accepting responsibility and transparency for what Purdue and the Sackler family did wrong all these years. And this settlement comes up short on all three measures.

SHAPIRO: You're talking about the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma. And I wonder whether you would be more satisfied with the settlement if it involved a direct claim of responsibility by the Sackler family. This settlement really has to deal with the company and not the individuals in the family.

SHAPIRO: I want to see two things from the Sackler family - number one, an acceptance of responsibility for their role in this epidemic here in Pennsylvania and across the country. And I want to see them dip into their billionaire pockets and take out some of those ill-gotten gains and deliver them back to the people who are most in need. And so far, under the terms of this settlement, they're unwilling to do that. They seem to have declared bankruptcy as a means to just run away from responsibility.

SHAPIRO: When you say they've declared bankruptcy, you mean the company has.

SHAPIRO: Well, the company has declared bankruptcy, I think, to avoid responsibility. But understand - this isn't sort of a traditional company. What has happened over the years as they've made tens of billions of dollars on OxyContin - the Sackler family has sucked those profits out of the company and put them into trusts and put them into offshore accounts. And we estimate their personal fortune to be somewhere between $13 and $16 billion.

SHAPIRO: A bankruptcy judge still has to decide whether this deal can go through. And today, the chair of Purdue Pharma's board of directors - his name is Steve Miller - he made an argument on CNBC for why this settlement is, in his view, the best way forward.

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STEVE MILLER: There are some people who will never be satisfied, but the only way to test that would be to revert to litigation and expend all of the resources that are available on litigation instead of on helping communities that have suffered.

SHAPIRO: What's your response to that claim that by dragging this out, you withhold help from people who could get it sooner if the settlement goes through?

SHAPIRO: They're not putting a serious amount of resources forward that can have an appreciably positive effect on the people who are most in need. The idea that we would be listening to the wrongdoer define the terms of the next steps here is really unconscionable.

SHAPIRO: But is there a risk that if litigation does go forward, you risk seeing money 10 years from now, if ever?

SHAPIRO: I think it is quite likely that as our litigation goes forward, both against Purdue the company and the Sacklers personally - that it will take a longer period of time. But remember, under this proposed settlement - and I wish you could see the air quotes that I'm making around the word settlement - Purdue would propose to make this paltry payment over the course of about a decade.

I believe that over the course of that same decade, we can litigate this. We can litigate it to an end that is far better for the people of Pennsylvania and the people of this country. And that's exactly what I intend to do - to not only recover for - resources for those who are in need, but make sure we've got real transparency in the process, make sure that the Sacklers and Purdue face real scrutiny and that they do not get to dictate the terms of how this process goes forward.

SHAPIRO: That is Josh Shapiro, attorney general for the state of Pennsylvania.

Thanks a lot.

SHAPIRO: Great to be with you, Ari. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.