AG Ellison announces resolution with Purdue Pharma and Sackler family for their role in the opioid crisis
Resolution secures unprecedented public disclosure of more than 30 million documents, $4.3B from Sacklers; Minnesota’s share to exceed $50M over 9 years for prevention, treatment, and recovery
AG Ellison: Public document disclosure ‘means no one ever will forget what they did to us and no one can ever do it again’
July 8, 2021 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today announced a resolution of the State’s lawsuit against the Sackler family and the company they controlled, Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the blockbuster opioid drug Oxycontin and a major contributor to the deadly opioid crisis in Minnesota and across America. The resolution of Minnesota’s lawsuit against Purdue and the Sacklers, along with those of other states and localities, will make public tens of millions of documents related to Purdue’s role in the deadly opioid crisis. It also requires the Sacklers personally to pay $4.325 billion over nine years for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts in communities across the country, in one of the largest amounts that individuals have paid to resolve a law enforcement action in U.S. history. Minnesota’s share of those payments is expected to exceed $50 million over nine years, the spending of which will be overseen by the State’s Opioid Epidemic Response Advisory Council.
The resolution of the lawsuit, which is outlined in a Mediator’s Report filed in bankruptcy court on Wednesday night and is subject to approval, requires unprecedented disclosure about the role Purdue and the Sacklers played in the opioid crisis. It requires Purdue and the Sacklers to make public more than 30 million documents, including attorney-client privileged communications about the original FDA approval of OxyContin and tactics to promote opioids.
Attorney General Ellison was one of the leaders in the fight to secure public disclosure of company documents as part of this resolution.
The resolution significantly improves upon an earlier settlement offer made by Purdue and the Sacklers before filing bankruptcy in the fall of 2019. Under the terms of that settlement, the Sackler family would have paid $3 billion for prevention, treatment, and recovery and would not have been required to disclose any company documents.
Minnesota was one of 24 states and the District of Columbia that did not consent to that settlement and chose instead to fight to improve it. Over time, Minnesota and other states negotiated the significantly improved resolution announced today: $4.325 billion in payments and public disclosure of more than 30 million internal documents from Purdue Pharma, the company controlled by the Sacklers.
Toll of opioid crisis in Minnesota
According to the Minnesota Department of Health Drug Overdose Dashboard, 4,821 Minnesotans died of opioid overdoses from 2000-19. The crisis is far from over today: preliminary reports show 654 opioid-involved deaths in Minnesota in 2020, a 59% increase from 2019. Emergency room visits for opioid-involved overdoses increased from 1,618 in 2016 to 3,990 in 2020. Native Americans in Minnesota are seven times more likely than white people to die of a drug overdose, and African Americans are twice as likely.
AG Ellison: Public document disclosure ‘means no one will ever forget what they did to us and no one can ever do it again’
“No amount of money can make up for the pain that Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family caused families and communities in Minnesota and across the country. This means that no resolution can be perfect,” Attorney General Ellison said. “I chose to be part of the solution today because the most significant feature of this resolution — beyond the resources that we will receive for prevention, treatment, and recovery — is the disclosure of more than 30 million documents from Purdue and the Sacklers, which other attorneys general and I fought hard for. This public disclosure means no one will ever forget what they did to us and no one can ever do it again.
“Let’s remember what the opioid crisis is about: addiction, suffering, and death for too many Minnesotans and their families, and devastation for too many Minnesota communities, especially rural communities and communities of color — all while corporations like Purdue and the individuals that controlled them reaped billions in profits from it,” Attorney General Ellison continued. “When it came to the Sackler family, they knew the damage they were causing — and they caused it anyway, all for the sake of personal profit and their own self-glorification.
“Now with this resolution, the whole world will see what they did.”
Public disclosure terms
Under the terms of the resolution, Purdue will turn over for public disclosure the evidence from lawsuits and investigations of Purdue over the past 20 years, including deposition transcripts, deposition videos, and 13 million documents. Purdue will also be required to turn over more than 20 million additional documents, including every non-privileged email at Purdue that was sent or received by every member of the Sackler family who sat on the Board or worked at the company. Lastly, Purdue will waive its attorney-client privilege to reveal confidential communications with its lawyers about tactics for pushing opioids, FDA approval of OxyContin, “pill mill” doctors and pharmacies diverting drugs, and about the billions of dollars Purdue paid out to the Sackler
The vast majority of these documents will be published as soon as possible after the plan takes effect, and the documents for which Purdue is waiving privilege will be made available to the public by 2025.
Other resolution terms
Under the terms of the plan, the Sacklers will be permanently banned from the opioid business and Purdue will be sold or wound down by the end of 2024.
The resolution also requires the Sacklers to relinquish control of family foundations holding $175 million in assets to the trustees of a foundation dedicated to abating the opioid crisis. Further, the Sackler family will be prohibited from requesting or permitting any new naming rights in connection with charitable or similar donations or organizations for the next nine years.
Minnesota lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Sackler family
The State of Minnesota originally filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County against Purdue Pharma in July 2018. The State alleged consumer fraud, including that Purdue deliberately minimized the addiction risk of long-term opioid use and failed to sufficiently disclose the risks of long-term opioid use; deceptive and unlawful trade practices, including that Purdue made misrepresentations designed to mislead health care providers about the benefits of opioids; false statements in advertising; public nuisance; unjust enrichment; false claims; and other causes of action. The court denied Purdue’s motion to dismiss in January 2019.
In May 2019, the State amended its complaint against Purdue to name as defendants eight individual members of the Sackler family, who controlled Purdue at all times as company owners and board members. In the amended complaint, the State alleged that the Sackler defendants were personally involved in designing and implementing Purdue’s deceptive sales and marketing strategy and practices, were especially focused on and directed aggressive sales, and “were involved with Purdue sales force decisions on a granular level.”
The Sacklers knew as early as 1999 that Purdue’s powerful prescription opioids led to addiction — yet continued to personally direct and participate in misconduct that led to the opioid epidemic, by directing misrepresentations about the risks and benefits of long-term use of opioids that they knew were false or misleading.
Sacklers’ direct involvement in Purdue’s deception about OxyContin’s risks, personal knowledge of harm OxyContin caused
In August 2019, the State filed an unredacted version of its amended complaint against the Sacklers. Among other things, the unredacted complaint alleged that:
- The Sackler defendants were personally behind Purdue’s deception about OxyContin’s risk of abuse and addiction;
- The Sackler defendants were personally aware of the risks of abuse and addiction with OxyContin as early as 1999 — and intentionally blamed individuals for it;
- Despite their denials that opioids were addictive, the Sackler defendants moved to profit from treatments for addiction;
- The Sackler defendants also monitored and attempted to influence Minnesota pain-management standards and education;
- The Sackler defendants were personally involved in maximizing returns from OxyContin from the start; and
- The Sackler defendants paid themselves $4 billion in opioid profits, including an estimated $92 million in profits they made off Minnesotans.
Minnesota’s previous settlement with McKinsey
In February 2021, Minnesota settled an investigation against consulting firm McKinsey related to the firm’s role in helping Purdue “turbocharge” opioid sales. As a result of that settlement, McKinsey will pay almost $8 million to Minnesota to fund abatement efforts. McKinsey, like Purdue, is also required to publicly disclose documents detailing its work for opioid companies.