Sackler family members to pay $4.3b settlement — $90m to Mass.

Healey calls Purdue Pharma owners ‘villians for the history books’

MEMBERS OF THE Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma will pay $4.3 billion to settle a lawsuit over Purdue’s role in perpetuating the opioid addiction epidemic, a lawsuit first initiated by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in 2018. The company will have to disband or be sold by 2024, and the Sackler family members will be permanently banned from selling opioid pain medication. 

Attorney General Maura Healey said this is the highest settlement ever paid out in a law enforcement action.  

At press conferences – one held virtually with attorney generals from New York and Minnesota, and one in-person in Boston – Healey blamed members of the Sackler family for creating the addiction crisis by misleading the public about the drugs they manufacture and pushing the prescription of opioid drugs to patients for longer periods at higher doses. “The perpetrators who created this crisis are villains for the history books,” Healey said. “That’s where Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers belong, in the past, never to be seen or heard from again.”  

The settlement was agreed to by 15 states, all of whom had rejected an earlier settlement the company reached with the US Department of Justice. 

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, appeared at the press conference at Healey’s office alongside the Democratic attorney general, who is rumored to be considering a run against him. Baker slammed members of the Sackler family for continuing to peddle opioids even after a 2007 federal settlement in which Purdue executives pleaded guilty to fraudulent marketing of OxyContin. He praised Healey for continuing to pursue her litigation despite pressure to accept the earlier settlement.  

“It took tremendous courage on the part of the AG and her staff to say no to the deal proposed a year ago,” Baker said. “She and her team looked at the deal and said basically ‘not enough.’ They were right. They forced people back to the table.” 

Under the terms of the settlement, which was filed Wednesday in US Bankruptcy Court in New York and must still be approved by a judge at an August 9 hearing, the $4.325 billion – paid over nine years – will be used for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts related to opioid addiction. 

Individual victims will also be compensated separately through the bankruptcy process. 

Massachusetts will get $90 million of the $4.3 billion. State lawmakers have established an opioid trust fund to hold the money. Its distribution will be governed by an advisory council that includes government agency appointees and people with lived experience with substance abuse. Baker said the advisory council has a “tabula rasa,” and will have more flexibility in developing a strategy to combat substance use disorder than would typically exist through the normal annual appropriations process. “It’s a lot of money. They have a ton of other opportunities,” Baker said. 

Purdue and members of the Sackler family agreed to make public through an online, searchable document repository more than 30 million documents, including deposition materials from years of lawsuits, every email at Purdue Pharma involving the Sacklers, and attorney-client communications about a range of topics including the original FDA approval of OxyContin, pharmacies diverting drugs, and tactics to promote opioids. 

“Exposing the Sacklers’ evil acts is a step toward ending the stigma (of addiction). It’s a step toward healing,” Healey said.   

In addition to being barred from the opioid business, the Sacklers will also have to relinquish control of family foundations that hold $175 million and turn them over to trustees who will use the money to abate the opioid epidemic. The Sacklers will not be able to request naming rights in exchange for any charitable donations for the next nine years. 

Healey said the settlement “delivers a reckoning that exposes the Sacklers’ misconduct, strips them of their power, and provides money that will be dedicated entirely to prevention treatment and recovery.” 

Purdue Pharma said in a statement the progress made in the third and final round of mediation with the states builds upon the support already expressed for the organization’s settlement plans by other creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings. “We will continue to work to build even greater consensus for our Plan of Reorganization, which would transfer billions of dollars of value into trusts for the benefit of the American people and direct critically-needed medicines and resources to communities and individuals nationwide who have been affected by the opioid crisis,” the company said. 

There were 24 states plus Washington, DC , that participated in the mediation, and 10 did not agree with the settlement – though they will still have an opportunity to sign on, should they choose to do so.  

New York Attorney General Letitia James, attending a virtual press conference with Healey, said she agreed to the deal because it puts an end to delays and legal maneuvering that could have continued for years. “I don’t think any of us will say this deal is perfect, but we can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good,” James said. “This deal gets one of the nation’s most harmful drug dealers out of the opioid business.” 

Healey said the amount of money, the strong document disclosure provisions, and the fact that Purdue Pharma will cease to exist led her to accept the settlement. The attorneys general were also up against the possibility that a judge, at a hearing in August, would impose a settlement without their agreement. 

Healey said one regret she has is that the Sacklers did not apologize or admit wrongdoing. “I hope that someday they do, or their kids or grandkids see fit to own up to the family’s horrible legacy,” she said. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Several family members who lost loved ones to overdoses attended Healey’s press conference. Roger Brunelle Jr., president of the Painters and Allied Trades union in Boston, lost his son Brent Hastings to addiction at age 26. Brunelle said his son, an assistant harbormaster in Onset who wanted to be an environmental police officer, was overprescribed opioid pain medication to deal with an injury at age 22. 

 “I’m not standing here today to celebrate a victory. For our family there can be no victory,” Brunelle said. “However, what’s happening here today is going a long way to putting more tools in the toolbox for education, prevention, and hopefully recovery to all those struggling now.”