The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why I and other attorneys general are saying no to Purdue Pharma’s settlement

(Toby Talbot/AP)

Maura Healey, a Democrat, is attorney general of the state of Massachusetts.

This column has been updated.

Purdue Pharma, the drug manufacturer behind the addictive painkiller OxyContin, filed for bankruptcy Sunday. It has been a long time coming. In the past two decades, nearly 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to the opioid epidemic. Communities have been devastated. Year after year, families have called for accountability and justice.

That’s why responding to this crisis has been my top priority. In Massachusetts, we’ve created prevention education in schools, expanded access to lifesaving medicines such as Narcan, and prosecuted criminals who traffic heroin and fentanyl. And, on behalf of our state and thousands of families who have lost loved ones, we sued Purdue Pharma for its role in creating and profiting off the opioid epidemic. I also sued the individual members of the Sackler family who own and control the company, which no public official had tried to do before.

Last week, Purdue and the Sacklers offered terms for settlement. Together with 24 of my fellow attorneys general, I said no. The main reason is simple: It doesn’t hold the company or its owners accountable.

Our case against Purdue and the Sacklers is based on years of investigation, sworn testimony, death certificates, prescription records and thousands of internal company documents that Purdue kept secret until we brought them to light. We uncovered a scheme designed to get more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer periods of time. That scheme put patients and families at risk so that the Sacklers could pocket billions of dollars. In recent months, the voices demanding accountability have grown. Twenty-five other states and hundreds of cities and counties have brought their own lawsuits against the Sacklers. At courthouses across the country, families have organized, bearing the photos and stories of lost loved ones.

The Sacklers would like us to believe that as part of the settlement they’re cutting a check for billions of dollars. They’re not. After ravaging communities across the country and making billions off OxyContin sales, their proposed settlement likely wouldn’t require the Sacklers to pay back a dime of the money they made from Oxycontin sales over the past few decades. Instead, they’re offering payments generated from future sales of OxyContin, as well as an estimated $3 billion from the sale of their company Mundipharma. It’s a ploy that’s offensive to families who have lost loved ones to this epidemic.

We have to ask ourselves, if we want real accountability for this wrongdoing, where should the money come from? Should it come from future sales of addictive and deadly drugs, as Purdue has proposed, or should it come from the Sacklers themselves?

I rejected the settlement because it doesn’t tell the truth about what happened. Families deserve to know what Purdue and its executives and directors knew, and what they did. The evidence — their emails, business plans, board minutes, all of it — should be put on the Internet for all to see. Purdue and the Sacklers have fought for years to keep the facts secret. Under their proposal, the story could stay hidden forever.

I also turned down their proposal because neither the company nor its leadership admit they did anything wrong. That’s not accountability.

Accountability means making the Sacklers reach into their own pockets. It means telling the full truth. It means shutting down Purdue for good. And accountability means listening to the families who are calling for justice.

Purdue’s bankruptcy filing is the company’s latest tactic to protect the Sackler fortune. It won’t work. Our case against the company and the Sacklers will end, but not this week and not on their terms. We started this fight, and we will end it with accountability and justice.

Read more:

The Post’s View: We’re finally getting some accountability for the opioid crisis — long after victims are dead

Letters to the Editor: Pharmacists must be part of the opioids solution

Robert Gebelhoff: Opioid deaths are down for the first time in decades. But the crisis of addiction is as severe as ever.

Robert Gebelhoff: The solutions to the opioid crisis are clear. Trump just resists them.

The Post’s View: Americans need to know the whole truth about the opioid crisis