States say they’ll keep lawsuits against Purdue on hold
By Geoff Mulvihill
The Associated Press
State attorneys general with pending lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners will ask a federal bankruptcy judge Wednesday to give them more time to continue negotiating.
A temporary freeze on their lawsuits expires this week, when the judge is to decide whether to halt them or issue another temporary stay that could last for months. In a filing earlier this week, about two dozen attorneys general said they are making progress in their talks with Purdue over the nation’s opioid crisis and want a six-week extension.
The states, along with the District of Columbia, opposed a tentative settlement the company reached in September with two dozen other states and many of the local governments that are suing it. Purdue filed for bankruptcy protection as part of that deal.
The attorneys general for all the opposing states — nearly all of them Democrats — told the bankruptcy judge this week that they are willing to keep their lawsuits against Purdue and members of the Sackler family who own the company on hold until Dec. 19. That will give all sides time to work out conditions for a longer pause in their litigation — which would give them more time to try to reach a wide-ranging settlement.
Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain has been urging the sides to settle. He has said that a national deal to resolve all claims against the company would be fairer than gutting the company with judgments stemming from lawsuits filed throughout the country.
Nearly all the states that opposed the previous settlement terms have also sued members of the Sackler family.
In the current negotiations, the states are negotiating with Purdue on details of an emergency fund that would provide money quickly for treatment programs and other needs related to the opioid crisis, which has been linked to more than 400,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. since 2000. The company had agreed to the concept previously.
The attorneys general also say they are working on arrangements for how Purdue could share financial information with them and for setting up a monitor who would oversee the company’s actions.
While there aren’t final agreements on those items, the court filing by the states said they have “the potential for achieving meaningful progress in the next several weeks that will benefit the public and the bankruptcy case.”
The question of whether the legal claims can continue against members of the Sackler family is a key to reaching a settlement. The Stamford, Connecticut-based company has said that if lawsuits against the family are allowed to move ahead, the Sacklers might be unwilling or unable to pay their pledged contribution that was spelled out in their initial settlement offer.
That deal could be worth up to $12 billion over time. It includes having members of the Sackler family give up ownership of Purdue, the value of overdose antidote and addiction treatment drugs the company has in its pipeline, and at least $3 billion in cash from members of the Sackler family.
Purdue’s bankruptcy case, filed in White Plains, New York, removed the company from multidistrict opioid litigation being overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland. Also Wednesday, the judge in that case will hear from lawyers about which lawsuits against other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies should be lined up for trial.
Most of the companies being sued settled with Ohio’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties before the trial was scheduled to begin last month. Cabell County in West Virginia now could be the first to have its opioid case go to a federal trial.
Whether it remains next in line and whether U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster would preside or hand it off to another judge are among the issues being considered during Wednesday’s hearing, which Polster has closed to the public and media.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie in Cleveland contributed to this report.