Healey firm on refusal to settle with opioid maker

AP PhotoMassachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference Monday in Boston. Healey detailed her efforts to continue to pursue Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family despite the company's decision to file for bankruptcy late Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. 

BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey is digging in over her decision not to sign onto a multi-state settlement with Purdue Pharma over its role in the opioid addiction crisis.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Healey ripped into a tentative agreement between Purdue, the company that makes OxyContin, and state and local governments that allowed the company file for a structured bankruptcy on Monday as part of a settlement for as much as $12 billion, with $3 billion coming from the company's owners, the Sackler family.

Under the deal, the Sacklers would give up ownership of the company and chip in another $1.5 billion by selling a separate company.

Healey said she rejected the settlement because it didn't provide justice or enough money for families who've lost loved ones to the scourge of opioid addiction.

"It doesn't require the Sacklers to pay back a dime of the billions of dollars they sucked out of Purdue's sales of Oxy in recent years," she told reporters at a briefing in her offices. "It also doesn't provide the accountability and transparency we need. We need the documents, we need the story told. That's the only way we're going to get justice in this case."

Besides Healey, attorneys general for Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are among nearly two dozen saying they're not part of the agreement.

Her refusal to sign onto the settlement has won praise from other state leaders including Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, as well as counselors for recovering addicts and their families.

Baker reiterated on Monday that he supports Healey's rejection of the settlement, calling it a "bad deal" that doesn't hold the Sackler family accountable for their role in the opioid addiction crisis.

"The agreement basically requires the settlement payments to be based on the future sales and profits of opioids," Baker told reporters. "That doesn't feel to me like the right way to do this."

Healey's lawsuit, filed last year, alleges the Sacklers reaped billions of dollars as the company misled prescribers and patients in an effort to boost sales of their addictive medications. The legal challenge says Purdue’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin ignored addiction risks and led to widespread opioid prescriptions.

Massachusetts is grappling with a deadly wave of opioid addiction that claimed nearly 2,000 lives last year from overdose. Experts say many opioid addicts started with pain pills.

On Monday, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy just days after it reached the tentative settlement with state and local governments who were suing the company over its role in opioid addictions.

"This settlement framework avoids wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and years on protracted litigation," Steve Miller, chairman of Purdue’s board of directors, said in a statement on the bankruptcy filing, "and instead will provide billions of dollars and critical resources to communities across the country trying to cope with the opioid crisis."

Much of the Sackler family fortune is believed to be held outside the U.S., according to news reports, which could complicate lawsuits against the family.

A court filing by the New York attorney general’s office on Friday claimed family members used Swiss and other hidden accounts to transfer $1 billion overseas.

Healey called the revelation "offensive" and said the Sacklers "shouldn't be allowed to use the bankruptcy process as a vehicle to further shield their assets and escape accountability."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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