South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has joined 23 states in agreeing to a proposed, multibillion-dollar settlement with the maker of OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller that has fueled America’s opioid crisis.
The deal — already facing challenges from a group of other states that say it is too soft on Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family — seeks to settle more than 2,600 state and federal lawsuits against the Stamford, Connecticut-based company.
The settlement, which hinges on Purdue’s Sunday night Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, would see the Sacklers give up ownership of the company and allow it to transform into a “public benefit trust.”
If the settlement is approved by a federal judge, the Sacklers reportedly would have to pay $3 billion in cash to the lawsuits’ plaintiffs over seven years.
Purdue would continue selling opioids in the U.S. and elsewhere. But the future profits of those drug sales would pay off plaintiffs who sued the company and fund the research and development of drugs to treat addiction and overdoses, according to the New York Times.
Wilson’s office confirmed Tuesday afternoon that South Carolina was among the 24 states and five U.S. territories that have signed onto the settlement. Those states, including Tennessee and Florida, like the settlement because it avoids additional costly litigation and produces money that can be used to fight opioid addiction.
“Our lawsuit seeks to hold accountable Purdue Pharma for their deceptive marketing of prescription opioids such as OxyContin, which fueled the opioid epidemic in South Carolina,” Wilson said in a statement. “The bankruptcy was expected and is part of a settlement framework which will put one of the worst actors responsible for the opioid epidemic in our country out of business, not only in the United States, but worldwide. It will take every penny from Purdue Pharma assets and billions from the Sackler family personally.
“Our focus all along has been to put an end to Purdue Pharma’s deceptive practices to secure resources we need to fight this epidemic. With this settlement framework, we have done that without the delay of protracted litigation and its associated costs.”
The settlement is sure to be contested by other states, including neighboring North Carolina, which say the deal lets the Sacklers off easy and will wind up providing less than the $10 billion estimated by the company in its bankruptcy filing.
The settlement allows the Sacklers to continue running British-based Mundipharma until that drug company is sold, according to the New York Times. It also requires the Sacklers to pay only $3 billion of the total settlement, allowing the rest to be paid from future opioid sales even as local and state governments work to combat the opioid crisis.
“The Sackler family sucked billions of dollars out of Purdue and is now throwing the carcass of this drug company into bankruptcy,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said, according to the Associated Press.
Prescription painkillers and illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have been blamed for more than 400,000 deaths in the United States over the past 20 years, according to the Associated Press.
That includes 749 opioid overdose deaths in South Carolina in 2017, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. That was up from fewer than 100 opioid overdoses in South Carolina in 2000, data show.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster declared the opioid epidemic a statewide public health emergency in December 2017.
Asked about Wilson’s decision, a spokesman for McMaster said, “As an attorney and former Attorney General, the governor isn’t inclined to talk about the specifics of a case he isn’t directly involved with, but he does have confidence in the Attorney General Wilson’s judgement.”
After a legal fight between the settlement’s supporters and opponents, a federal bankruptcy judge will decide whether to approve or reject the settlement or order revisions to it.
It is unclear how much money South Carolina would get from the settlement.
The 24 states who have signed onto the deal are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The five U.S. territories who support the deal are American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Two dozen other states are either opposed to the settlement or uncommitted to signing it, according to Reuters.