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States Are Split Over Purdue Pharma's Opioid Settlement


State attorneys general are split over a settlement reached with Purdue Pharma over that company's role in the opioid epidemic. This is the company that manufactures OxyContin. Twenty-four are part of the deal; another 25 are on record as opposing it. Now, overdose deaths linked to prescription opioids have killed more than 218,000 Americans since the addiction crisis began in the late 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts is one of those attorneys general who thinks this deal just doesn't do enough to hold Purdue or the company's owners, the Sackler family, accountable for all those deaths. And she joins me on the line this morning. Thanks for being here.

MAURA HEALEY: Oh, good to be with you, David.

GREENE: So I just want to make sure I understand this. As part of this settlement, Purdue Pharma files for bankruptcy, which in theory would freeze litigation against it, right? So I'm wondering, what are your next moves now?

HEALEY: Well, we're going to continue to be aggressive and oppose the proposed settlement in the bankruptcy court. And we're going to continue to pursue our own case against Purdue and the Sacklers here in Massachusetts' state court.

GREENE: OK. So you're going to argue against this settlement even taking hold in bankruptcy court. That's the first step. How likely are you to succeed there?

HEALEY: Well, I think our argument is more with how they've prepackaged this. This is sort of what's called a prepackaged bankruptcy. And, you know, from our perspective, look, it's a good thing that Purdue is going out of business. But our concern with this proposed settlement, David, is that it really lets the Sacklers off the hook. The Sacklers would like the public to believe that they're cutting a check for billions of dollars. They're not. In fact, for all the billions that they raked in from Oxy sales over the years - billions and billions of dollars - they're not required to pay a dime of it back.

In fact, this settlement is going to be funded by future sales of OxyContin by Purdue's overseas company. The other thing, David, is this - we don't believe this settlement was worth anywhere near the $10 billion to $12 billion that Purdue is saying that it is. And finally, there's no admission of wrongdoing or liability. And we also want to see all the documents in Purdue's possession online, available to the public, because the story of what happened here really needs to be told.

GREENE: What would you tell a community that - even if you don't think it's nearly enough money - might be set to get some level of money to help deal with this crisis out of this settlement? And what would you tell them in terms of your hopes for winning steeper concessions? And what might be a risk here, you know, if your play for more doesn't work out?

HEALEY: Well, I think this is ultimately about justice and accountability. Purdue is a company that, back in 2007, paid a $600 million fine, said it wouldn't do bad things again and then went on to continue to lie and cheat the American public. And so, I think we've got to be clear about the message we're sending.

I know states, cities and counties are desperate for money for treatment. But I think we have to look at the big picture here. We're pursuing other manufacturers and distributors. We expect to be successful. Purdue is just one of many. That said, this deal - when you look at how it's going to be carved up, we've got 1,400 cities and counties, states, the federal government for a deal that we think could be worth as little as $4 billion over seven years. This is all contingent upon the sale of Oxy by their foreign company. We just don't think it's good enough.

And the larger point, David, is that the Sacklers, who really were the ones who orchestrated the whole illegal scheme to sell Oxy, are not being forced to pay a dime back of any of the billions of dollars that they made from Oxy sales.

GREENE: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is one of the attorneys general not signing onto this deal with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Thanks so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

HEALEY: It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.