Purdue Pharma Blamed for South Shore Opioid Crisis After Settlement

  • Over 20,000 people have died from drug overdoses in Mass. since 2010.
  • AG Healey sued the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma for profiting from a drug epidemic they helped create.
  • Massachusetts and more than a dozen other states reached a $ 4 billion settlement on Thursday.

Massachusetts and more than a dozen other states have reached a $ 4 billion deal with Purdue Pharma, the developer of OxyContin, for the role the drug company and its owners have played in the opioid crisis.

Attorney General’s Office Maura Healey announced the deal on Thursday, which requires Purdue to release around 33 million documents to the public and forces the company to shut down or be sold by 2024. It also bans the family behind Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, to get into the opioid business. before.

The settlement orders the Sacklers to pay $ 4.3 billion to various entities, including $ 90 million to fight the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.

Healey, Governor Charlie Baker and families affected by the opioid crisis held a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the deal and its impact.

“You can’t put a price on the heartache and pain… I’m glad we have the money that will be put to good use,” Healey said.

“We have a tremendous amount of work to do on addiction and behavioral health, and this fund will be of tremendous benefit to families, practitioners and people with substance use disorders,” added Baker.

Ryan Hampton protests outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma in Stamford, Connecticut.  August 2018.

A permanent crisis

The state says nearly 19,000 people lost their lives from drug overdoses between 2010 and 2019, and opioid overdose deaths reached new levels in Massachusetts in 2020. Last year, 2,035 people have died from confirmed overdose deaths, and predictive modeling suggests there will be 66 more to 70 deaths in 2020 once those cases are finalized, a May report revealed.

“It’s not slowing down – it’s increasing,” said Julie Burns, executive director of the nonprofit RIZE Massachusetts. “The COVID pandemic did not help matters: people were isolated, they could not seek treatment and they may have used in different ways that are more risky. They may have been alone, maybe they weren’t somewhere that someone could check on them and they maybe didn’t have access to naloxone. A number of factors taken together really made it worse. “

Michael Morrissey, the Norfolk County District Attorney, said overdoses remain the biggest source of preventable deaths in Norfolk County.

Palladone, a strong narcotic pain reliever, was recalled in 2005 after only one year on the market.  The drug's maker, Purdue Pharma, withdrew it due to possible serious side effects if the drug was taken with alcohol.

Local experts say Purdue Pharma’s role in triggering the opioid crisis cannot be ignored.

“There is unprecedented evidence that they were guilty in so many ways,” Burns said. “This is a leprechaun day for Massachusetts and for all the states that are part of the settlement. It won’t bring people back, but it will certainly bring back more transparency, more accountability and, hopefully, a closure to those who do. have lost loved ones. “

Morrissey said that “mitigating the damage done” by Purdue has been a “central task” during his decade as a district attorney. He said the county has spent thousands of dollars training and equipping police to deal with overdoses, held safe prescribing conferences to undo work done by Purdue representatives, and put up drug processing boxes. by prescription in each police station.

“The death toll, the number of orphans, the number of parents burying their adult children because of this misconduct, is staggering – in Norfolk County and nationwide. It has been a defining crisis for families and the communities of the South Shore, ”he said. said in a statement. “The revised settlement would include a larger financial settlement of the Sackler family and involve access to millions of internal company documents, allowing authorities to understand the full extent of this misconduct and, ideally, be able to guard against this in the future. “

After: ‘Perfect storm’: pandemic makes drug elimination harder

Burns said she hopes the money brought in by the settlement will be used to pave the way for an end to the opioid crisis. She said it would be extremely important for the money to be used wisely and responsibly, unlike that in the 1998 Main Tobacco Settlement Agreement between 46 states and the District of Columbia and major tobacco companies. .

That money – $ 206 billion in the first 25 years – was not spent on tobacco-related causes and Burns said less than 2.3% of that money was for prevention and stopping smoking.

“Can $ 90 million make a dent? We hope so,” she said. “The state of Massachusetts has already set up a trust fund to ensure that it doesn’t follow tobacco regulations. They are prepared and ready to go, and I think a very long-term view of treatment. , recovery and prevention will ensure that this money is well spent. “

The search for responsibility

Healey first sued the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma in June 2018, alleging that they “engaged in a deadly and deceptive scheme to sell opioids in Massachusetts” and took advantage of the drug epidemic they have helped to create.

Healey’s complaint alleged that Purdue “created the epidemic and profited from it through a network of illegal deceptions” by misleading doctors and patients to have more people consume their drugs, at ” higher and more dangerous doses “and for longer periods of time, as well as by deploying lies to steer patients away from” safer alternatives “.

Family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Connecticut , August 17, 2018.

A total of 671 Massachusetts residents who filled Purdue opioid prescriptions between 2009 and 2019 later died of an opioid overdose, according to the lawsuit. According to Healey’s office, Purdue sent sales reps to medical offices, clinics and hospitals in Massachusetts more than 150,000 times between 2008 and 2019.

Baker said the epidemic had already raged for years when he began campaigning for governor in 2013. He said it was not an issue he or Healey addressed, but people have constantly approached them to discuss the impact of opioids on their families.

“We heard about it most often because people hung out after the public forum and talked about it quietly. They didn’t want to make their family’s pain a spectacle, and the Sacklers took advantage of that over and over again, ”he said.

Purdue filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 to settle roughly 3,000 lawsuits she faced from state and local governments – including Quincy – and other entities.

The court record came from a mediator appointed by the bankruptcy court and shows that members of the Sackler family agreed to increase their cash contribution to the settlement by $ 50 million. They will also allow $ 175 million held in Sackler family charities to help ease the crisis.

In total, members of the Sackler family are contributing $ 4.5 billion in cash and assets to charitable funds for the settlement. They do not admit any wrongdoing and no court has found a family member.

Cars drive past Purdue Pharma headquarters on Thursday, September 12, 2019 in Stamford, Connecticut.

Healey, who was the first attorney general to prosecute members of the Sackler family, on Thursday welcomed the amended deal. She highlighted the $ 90 million the state would receive and how the company could waive attorney-client privilege to disclose hundreds of thousands of confidential communications with attorneys about its opioid and drug sales tactics. other questions.

“Although I know this resolution does not bring back loved ones or fix the evil of what the Sacklers did, forcing them to reveal their secrets by providing all the documents, forcing them to pay back billions, forcing the Sacklers to quit the opioid business, and shutting down Purdue will help prevent something like this from happening again, ”Healey said.

Braintree's Robyn Houston-Bean holds a photo of her son Nick, who overdosed at the age of 20.

Is it sufficient?

State Senator John Keenan, a Democrat from Quincy, is calling on individual members of the Sackler family to face criminal charges for their role in the opioid epidemic.

“While the bankruptcy court settlement announced today is substantial, I believe the members of the Sackler family who have directed and profited from the commercialization of oxycontin should also face federal criminal charges,” he said. Keenan said in a statement.

Weymouth and Quincy are among more than 1,700 other communities across the country who are collectively suing 16 manufacturers and distributors of drugs that officials say have promoted opioids.

The lawsuit, known collectively as the National Prescription Opioid Litigation, says the opioid epidemic began as a corporate business plan that drained local resources as police, firefighters and health services are struggling to cope with a crisis that continues to claim thousands of lives across the country.

Several Quincy officials said they could not comment on the settlement on Thursday, citing an ongoing litigation.

If you need help

Administration of Addiction and Mental Health Services 24 hour help line: 1-800-662-4357

US Department of Health and Human Servicess Telephone support: 1-800-222-1222

Massachusetts Substance use Helpline: 800-327-5050

Quincy’s A New Way Recovery Center: 617-302-3287

Bay State Community Services: 617-471-8400

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