Healey outlines refusal to settle Purdue Pharma lawsuit

‘We've had a swamp of funerals,’ AG says

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY says she plans to continue to aggressively pursue litigation against Purdue Pharma, the company that made billions selling prescription painkiller OxyContin, despite the company filing for bankruptcy on Sunday, and its reaching a settlement worth billions with many state and local governments last week.  

Healey said at a press conference Monday she refuses to take part in what could be a $12 billion settlement over the company’s marketing of opioid drugsThe settlement doesn’t “require the Sacklers to pay back a dime, she said. “They say they want to avoid a swamp of litigation, well, we’ve had swamp of funerals and heartache.” 

The company and its owners are accused of misleading doctors and patients with deceptive marketing practices in an effort to sell more drugs, even while knowing they were addictive. A settlement announced with other states last week does not include documents being revealed about the decision-making process behind those marketing practices. It also does not require Sackler family members to surrender their personal wealth. 

“It’s critical that all the facts come out about what this company and its executives and directors did, that they apologize for the harm they caused, and that no one profits from breaking the law,” Healey said. “These families deserve justice,” she said of those who have been affected by the opioid crisis. 

Under Healey, Massachusetts was the first state to sue the Sackler family in June for allegedly fueling the deadly opioid epidemic.   

The suit mentions the more than 670 opioid-related deaths of Massachusetts residents prescribed Purdue opioids since 2009, along with overdoses of thousands more. It names 16 current and former directors and executives of the privately held company. The complaint says the company made more than $500 million in revenue selling more than 70 million doses of opioids in the state since 2008.  

Healey has been pushing for the Sackler family to guarantee a personal payment of $4.5 billion, something the family has not agreed to.   

The settlement announcement last week came only days after a blockbuster announcement by the New York attorney general on Friday that Sackler family members were using offshore accounts to transfer $1 billion to themselves. Previous allegations from states have included accusations of Sackler family members shielding their wealth from the ongoing lawsuits.  

Purdue’s decision to file for bankruptcy Sunday comes as part of a move to settle about 2,600 lawsuits it faces from state and local municipalities. Healey said that the bankruptcy filing was “expected.” 

More than a dozen other states have not signed on to last week’s settlement, and the ongoing litigation will most likely now shift to bankruptcy court.  It is not known if the bankruptcy filing will place a hold on state-based lawsuits against the company and the Sackler family. Purdue will most likely ask a bankruptcy judge to pause litigation while settlement discussions continue, something Healey plans to challenge.  

“The first filing will be in New York, opposing the settlement, and to oppose any effort to stop us from litigating in Massachusetts,” she said. 

The company said last week it was aiming to settle the lawsuits. Purdue Pharma continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis, Purdue said in a statement. 

Members of the Sackler family who face lawsuits released a statement last week saying they plan on working toward a “global resolution” for families impacted by opioid addiction. “This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis, and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation, they said. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Healey said she found the statements “incensing” and contrary to what the company knew when it was marketing the drugs. “Out of business is exactly where Purdue Pharma belongs. What this bankruptcy should not be able to allow is billionaires to shield assets and escape accountability,” she said.  

According to Reuters, the Sacklers have said they could fork over $3 billion over seven years and another $1.5 billion once they sell one of their companies.The money being offered by the family is from future sales of OxyContin.