Calling them “villains for the history books,” the attorneys general of New York, Massachusetts and Minnesota on Thursday announced a $4.5 billion settlement with the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the drug OxyContin that contributed to the nation’s opioid addiction crisis.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, along with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, said the settlement is the largest amount ever paid out by an individual. If approved, about $4.3 billion will be distributed to nearly every state in the nation to help fund prevention, treatment and recovery programs; New York will get $200 million.
The settlement also requires the Sacklers to give up control of family foundations with "no less than $175 million in assets" to the trustees of a contemplated National Opioid Abatement Trust, bringing the total to about $4.5 billion.
In addition, James said, Purdue Pharma will be shuttered by 2024, and the Sackler family will be permanently banned from opioid production.
“They should … take responsibility for their misconduct,” said James, who added the Sacklers used “every trick in the book” to try to avoid that responsibility.
The Sackler name will be taken off any remaining public buildings. Harvard, Yale, and Columbia universities, as well as the Louvre in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London, already have ended associations with the Sackler family’s philanthropic efforts.
Healy said another important part of the settlement is the requirement that Sackler family members and Purdue Pharma waive their attorney-client privilege and release up to 20 million documents related to the case. Healy predicted they will show what she said is the family’s and company’s pattern of “deceit.”
“For years, Purdue and the Sacklers told lies about their business,” said Healy, who accused Sackler family members of trying to “blame and stigmatize” those who became addicted to the company’s drugs.
“Exposing the Sacklers' evil acts is a step toward ending that stigma, it’s a step toward healing,” Healy said.
There is no criminal action included in the settlement. The attorneys general had been seeking a public apology from the Sackler family, but that also will not be part of the agreement. James said she and the other attorneys general decided to accept the deal to avoid more costly legal wrangling.
“I don’t think any of us will say that this deal is perfect,” James said. “But we can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good."
The Sackler-Purdue settlement is the second one announced by a drug company since a trial began in late June. Johnson & Johnson already agreed to a $230 million settlement with New York and agreed to end its opioid business.
James introduced a bill to create a lockbox for the settlement funds to ensure they do not go into the state’s general fund but are spent directly on programs to alleviate addiction caused by opioid dependence.
The legislation came after Cuomo’s budget office decided to spend just $11 million of a $32 million opioid settlement with McKinsey and Company on addiction prevention and treatment and spend the rest on other purposes.
It was passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor on June 30.