Maker Of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, Files For Bankruptcy Protections

Sep 16, 2019
Originally published on September 16, 2019 7:14 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has filed for bankruptcy over its alleged role in the deadly opioid crisis. We've been reporting on the settlement the company finally reached with states and local governments, and Brian Mann is here to give us more reporting. He's with North Country Public Radio and covers opioid-related litigation for NPR. Hi there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So let's start in terms of the impact of this bankruptcy on the communities in the U.S. that have been so impacted by this epidemic. What does this mean for them?

MANN: Well, it could be a game changer. I mean, we're talking billions of dollars flowing from the bankruptcy of Purdue Pharma and the restructuring here. They've promised to give $3 billion of their personal wealth, the Sackler family. And remember, you know, we're talking about addiction treatment centers, but also adoption programs, you know, and hospitals that have been hit by this, police departments. This has really been widespread for communities all over the U.S.

GREENE: And isn't the company also planning to create another company here to produce medicines to reverse overdoses, among other things? And is that something that could also buy them goodwill with communities?

MANN: I think this is why so many people have bought into this deal, is that, in theory, if this goes through as planned, a new trust company will be created out of Purdue Pharma. It will continue to sell OxyContin, this opioid medication, and the proceeds will continue to go to recovery programs. Right now, Purdue Pharma has profits of around - revenues, I should say, of around $3 billion a year. So in theory, this will be an ongoing stream of funds to help all those communities.

GREENE: I mean, the Sackler family - so wealthy, also so controversial. They profited a lot from the sale of opioids. Are they going to feel a lot of pain going through this bankruptcy?

MANN: Well, this is where this gets controversial, is that about half the attorneys general in the United States say they will not feel nearly enough pain. Forbes magazine puts their wealth at around $13 billion, and a lot of that money will not be touched by this deal. There's also no admission of wrongdoing here, David. And that angers a lot of people. And remember, the Sackler family, we've seen over the last year, they really - members of the family played a very forward role in bringing OxyContin, but also other opioid medications, into the mainstream. Two hundred and eighteen thousand Americans have died from this prescription opioid epidemic alone. And so the fact that they're not feeling more personal sting here, that's controversial.

GREENE: Well, and you mentioned a lot of attorneys general are not satisfied with this result. I mean, does that mean they could really keep this going, this could mean that this is not over at all for the Sacklers?

MANN: Yeah. So New York Attorney General Letitia James announced, just on Friday, that the Sackler family had wired about a billion dollars to offshore accounts. She talks about Swiss bank accounts. So they're looking for that money, and they say they'll keep piling suits directly to family members.

GREENE: Well, and we're talking about Purdue Pharma. They actually didn't - I mean, a fairly small producer of opioids, right? There are other drugmakers out there, distributors, pharmacies. Does this bankruptcy impact all of them in some way?

MANN: Well, what it says is that the scale of possible liability is huge. And those lawsuits, David, will continue and will ramp up next month with a big federal trial in Ohio. So the legal battle over opioids, it's just getting started.

GREENE: All right. Brian Mann covers opioid-related litigation for NPR. He reports for North Country Public Radio with us on Skype this morning. Brian, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.