Weiser Announces Multi-Billion Resolution of Sackler & Purdue Pharma Opioid Case

Phil Weiser
The pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family will have to pay a record-breaking sum after the ruling on their case against the State of Colorado. Millions of documents, including attorney-client privileged communications, will become public as part of the requirements of the ruling. / Photo courtesy AG's Office.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has reached a resolution on the lawsuit against the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma. The settlement is not only one of the largest payments from individuals to resolve a law enforcement action in the history of the U.S. — but it also makes public millions of documents on the role of the Sacklers in the opioid crisis.

The resolution of the suit, which was filed in New York bankruptcy court last week and is subject to approval, requires unprecedented disclosure about the role Purdue and the Sacklers played in fueling the opioid crisis. Those disclosures include attorney-client privileged communications about Purdue’s manipulation of the original Food and Drug Administration approval of OxyContin and its “fraudulent and deceptive marketing tactics to promote” the drug.

“It also requires the Sacklers to make one of the largest payments that individuals have paid to resolve a law enforcement action in U.S. history,” the release states. The Sacklers are required to pay at least $4.3 billion for prevention, treatment and recovery efforts in communities across the state and U.S. 

“Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family made billions of dollars from engaging in a widespread, multifaceted, deceptive, and wrongful campaign to market and sell opioids,” said Weiser in a statement. “Their actions have contributed greatly to a crisis level of opioid use disorder cases and nearly 5,000 overdose deaths in Colorado. On account of this epidemic, so many families have lost loved ones; this action is taken with them in mind.”

Over the next nine years, the Sacklers will pay over $4.3 billion with Colorado expected to receive at least $50 million specifically for abatement of the opioid epidemic, according to the release. The exact amount received by the state will be determined by the Reorganization Plan confirmation proceeding in the pending Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case in federal bankruptcy in New York.

In total, according to the mediator’s report, the mediation presented an agreement among a majority, but not all of the participants in the mediation. Colorado was one of multiple states to accept the settlement proposal, which also included Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Virginia and Wisconsin, among others.

One of the prohibitions included in the document stops the Sackler family’s naming rights related to charitable contributions “until they have paid all obligations owed by them” under the settlement and “exited, worldwide, all businesses that engage in the manufacturing or sale of opioids.” The Sacklers are “major donors” to museums, galleries and theatres across the U.S. and United Kingdom, and in just four years the Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation alone gave away more than $6 million, according to NPR. According to Forbes Magazine, the Sackler family’s net worth as of December 2020 was $10.8 billion and was ranked as number 30 on a list of America’s Richest Families. 

As previously reported by Law Week, former state attorney general Cynthia Coffman filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Colorado back in 2018 against Purdue Pharma. The lawsuit was just one of multiple filed by cities, counties and states around the U.S. against Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies. The 2018 lawsuit grew from an investigation conducted by over 40 state attorneys general. Coffman’s office was among the leading group of attorneys general.

“Purdue unleashed a surge of prescription opioids on Coloradans while hiding the facts about their drugs’ addictive properties,” Coffman said in a 2018 press release. “Their corporate focus on making money took precedence over patients’ long-term health, and Colorado has been paying the price in loss of life and devastation of its communities as they struggle to address the ongoing opioid crisis.”

By 2018, roughly 3,000 prescription opioid-related deaths were caused by or related to heroin, Fentanyl or other synthetic opioid use, as previously reported by Law Week.

In July 2019, Weiser led a multistate settlement with the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, that held the firm accountable for working with Purdue and the Sacklers to “turbocharge opioid prescriptions in Colorado” and brought $10 million in settlement dollars to the state.

Under the resolution, Purdue will turn over documents for public disclosure covering the evidence from lawsuits and investigations of Purdue over the last 20 years containing deposition transcripts, deposition videos and over 30,000,000 documents — including every non-privileged Purdue email that was sent or received by a member of the Sackler family who sat on the Purdue board or worked for the company.

As a part of the Reorganization Plan, the Sacklers are permanently banned from the opioid business and all business activities of Purdue Pharma which will be sold or wound down by the end of 2024. Also, the Sacklers must relinquish control of certain family charitable foundations holding $175 million in assets to unrelated trustees of a newly formed foundation dedicated to abating the opioid crisis.

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