The Justice Department announced this morning that the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges for the role it has played in creating the opioid crisis. According to the settlement, the company faces charges of defrauding federal health agencies and breaking anti-kickback laws, the New York Times reported. This is not the end of litigation against the company, but it is a step towards holding the company accountable. Kind of. Here’s what you need to know.
Purdue Pharma has been facing lawsuits from individuals and city, state, tribal, and federal agencies for more than a decade, the Times reported. The company has long demanded that these big federal proceedings against it be resolved before it moves on to smaller cases. This federal case is still being negotiated, and the final settlement probably won’t be reached until next year.
According to the settlement, Purdue will pay about $8.3 billion in civil penalties and the owners of the company, the Sackler family, will pay $225 million. The money will go towards funding opioid treatment programs, CNN reported. In addition, the company will be dissolved and its assets will be spent creating a new, government-controlled company.
That sounds like a pretty big win, but Purdue will probably not end up actually paying out as much as it seems, according to the Times. The company is currently in bankruptcy court, so the government will have to get in line behind the long list of people that Purdue already owes money to, and the smaller entities — like state governments — trying to sue Purdue will have to get in line behind them.
Those involved in lawsuits against Purdue are not pleased with this settlement, and some are implying that this quick settlement is politically motivated. “The D.O.J. failed,” Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey told the Times. The state of Massachusetts has depositions with some Sacklers scheduled for November, in which more evidence may have been revealed.
“Justice in this case requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election. I am not done with Purdue and the Sacklers, and I will never sell out the families who have been calling for justice for so long,” Healey told the Times. For context, in the years between 1999 and 2018, over 450,000 people died from opioid overdose. That’s a lot of families calling for justice.