Nevertheless, the plaintiffs also seek justice. They want accountability, and they want it to be not only corporate but also personal, including members of the Sackler family that controlled Purdue and got fantastically wealthy from sales of its signature opioid painkiller, OxyContin. Purdue’s proposal, which includes no new admission of wrongdoing, and which could be funded in large part from the proceeds of spinning off a Purdue international subsidiary, as well as future OxyContin sales, does not necessarily deliver that.
Nor does it deliver the retrospective transparency — full disclosure of Purdue’s internal practices and procedures — that many of the plaintiffs demand. OxyContin is, after all, the product whose aggressive and — as the company admitted in a 2007 plea bargain — sometimes illegal marketing has been plausibly blamed for igniting the epidemic. The United States, and other countries, will be better equipped to prevent a similar disaster in the future if we know, in detail, all the causes of this one.
And so while attorneys general for 24 states and five U.S. territories have accepted the Purdue proposal, we sympathize with the equivalent number of
attorneys general, including Karl A. Racine of the District, Brian E. Frosh (D) of Maryland and Mark R. Herring (D) of Virginia, who have so far refused it. Certainly we can understand why they would not want to settle before understanding the full nature and purpose of the $1 billion that members of the Sackler family shuffled among trusts and overseas bank accounts, via wire transfer, in recent years. New York state documented the transactions after issuing a subpoena for company records; a spokesman for the family has called them “perfectly legal.”
The states that oppose the settlement would still receive a share of the payout anyway, assuming a bankruptcy court approves it. In attempting to block approval for the deal now, and force renegotiation, the objecting states are holding out for a settlement that imposes more accountability, certainty and moral clarity.