Washington will receive $183 million from Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, as a result of the state’s 2017 lawsuit over the widely abused prescription painkiller OxyContin, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday.
The settlement amount, intended for addiction treatment, is more than double what the state was initially slated to get under a prior bankruptcy plan announced last year. Under that plan, which Ferguson objected to in August, Washington would have gotten $70 million.
Ferguson and the attorneys general for eight other states plus Washington, D.C., argued that the proposed settlement had been far too lenient and allowed the Sackler family, which founded and owns Purdue Pharma, to walk away with a “legal shield for life.”
As part of that proposal, the Sackler family did not file for personal bankruptcy but contributed $4.5 billion in exchange for immunity from future civil lawsuits. The family has pulled nearly $11 billion out of Purdue since 2008, with about $4.6 billion going to taxes, according to an audit introduced during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
A federal judge in New York agreed with Ferguson’s argument and rejected the proposed settlement in December.
“We stood up to the Sacklers and forced them to relinquish more of their fortune to help undo the damage they caused,” Ferguson said in a statement Thursday.
The plan agreed to Thursday must still be approved by the bankruptcy court.
Under the new plan, the Sacklers would still receive immunity from future civil lawsuits. But their personal cash contribution has gone up by at least $1.2 billion, to close to $6 billion, and they expressed regret for the damage caused by their product, without acknowledging wrongdoing.
“While the families have acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription medicine that continues to help people suffering from chronic pain, unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis that has brought grief and loss to far too many families and communities,” the Sackler statement reads, in part.
The Sacklers also agreed not to fight museums, universities and cultural institutions who take the family’s name off buildings that were funded with their money. The University of Washington cut ties to a Sackler-funded postdoctoral program in 2017. And, more prominently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art removed the name from its buildings late last year.
The settlement money must be used to battle and recover from the opioid epidemic, which has killed an estimated 500,000 Americans over the last two decades. Opioids have killed at least 600 people a year Washington for the last decade. And deaths skyrocketed in 2020, when the drugs killed an estimated 1,200 people.
Of the additional $93 million that Washington receives from the new settlement, the bulk of it will not be paid until for more than a decade. About $72 million of the $93 million is scheduled to be paid between 2036 and 2039, according to a court filing.
Jeffrey Ausbun, of Tacoma, said he was pleased the state is getting more money but hopes it goes straight to treatment options and doesn’t get diverted into the general fund or other spending priorities.
Ausbun’s son, Bobby, was 20 when he died of an opioid overdose in Bellevue in 2020. He’d been introduced to painkillers just a year before, his parents said, after getting his wisdom teeth removed.
When his parents realized he’d become addicted, they couldn’t find a spot for him in a treatment facility, so they drove him to Eastern Washington for a month, “just to get him away,” Ausbun said.
“That was our rehab,” he said.
“What are they going to do with it?” Ausbun said of the settlement money. “Do they have a plan? We need to help people to prevent it from happening to anyone else, treatment and interdiction to the addiction, these are young kids we’re losing.”
In February, seven Democratic U.S. senators wrote to the Justice Department, urging them to consider criminal charges against members of the Sackler family.
Washington is one of 48 states that sued Purdue Pharma for OxyContin’s role in fueling the opioid epidemic. Facing those and thousands of other lawsuits from local governments, tribes, hospitals and individuals, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2019.
Congress has considered legislation that would prohibit the kind of protections granted to Sackler family members, but the bill has stalled.
Representatives of the Sackler family have said in court, depositions and congressional hearings that they have not done anything improper and are not responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Ferguson’s office is currently in trial in King County Superior Court in a lawsuit against the nation’s three largest opioid distributors (as opposed to manufacturers), McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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