Settlement Colors

Courtesy Associated Press

Now that Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy, I wonder if Idaho State Attorney General is smiling or wincing. Either way, he’s shown courage and conviction.

Purdue Pharma famously produced Oxycontin, a powerful controlled-release narcotic they marketed as a magic pain reliever that wouldn’t lead to addiction. At least that’s what I remember their well-dressed salesmen saying to me over an expensive catered lunch they provided for all our office staff. But that was in the mid 1990’s. As the body count started to climb in the early 2000’s they toned back their claims.

But this drug made a lot of money for the Sackler family who 100% own Purdue Pharma. The family net worth is estimated to be over $13 Billion. And surprise, surprise, recently discovered documents have shown they have hidden billions of assets in preparation for this planned bankruptcy.

Purdue/Sackler have already settled lawsuits with the federal government and states for hundreds of millions. Indeed, some executives plead guilty to criminal charges in federal court for misleading advertising. But a large group of states, municipalities, even tribal governments have signed onto a much larger suit that is pending.

Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden joined many other states just this last June in suing Purdue Pharma. It’s Wasden’s second dance with the drug company in court. He (representing Idaho) was a co-complainant when Purdue settled in 2007 for $19M.

Wasden isn’t just focused on Purdue. Idaho has filed lawsuits in Federal Court against many other opioid manufacturers.

But now Purdue is declaring bankruptcy. Before they filed Sunday night, they offered to settle with the long list of states and entities suing them. It is interesting who agreed to settle and who didn’t. One analyst painted a map of the states that agreed and who refused. Idaho stands out as the only Red (Republican) state that refused. I can hear the “RINO” howls already echoing against Wasden. It won’t be the first time. But Red- Blue is the wrong way to look at this.

The analyst had some interesting conjecture on the relationships between Republican AGs and a big-time lobbyist for Purdue. It seems Purdue contributed three times as much money to the national Republican AG Association ($680K) as they did the Dem AG Association ($210K). It’s hard for me to believe this colored their decisions.

Fundamentally, either Republican or Democratic, I believe an elected state Attorney General would want to pursue justice for their constituents; color me naive. Maybe the AG’s who settled were just being pragmatic and figuring the pot would be reduced dramatically when the imminent bankruptcy was filed.

So, what was Wasden thinking? His only public comment was that he did not believe the settlement was in the best interests of the people of the State of Idaho. Since we don’t know all the details of the offers, indeed, we probably don’t know where all the money is hidden, it’s hard to second guess his decision. But he didn’t take the easy off ramp. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him.

It’s tempting to look at the bottom line and just see what the dollars would have been if a settlement had been taken compared to the route AG Wasden has steered. “What’s in it for us?” Such thinking is driven by self-interest, not justice.

There is no doubt our state has suffered. Idaho’s accidental overdose death rate has tripled since Oxycontin was rolled out. And there is no doubt some people have profited greatly from that suffering.

I blame Purdue Pharma/ Sackler for misrepresenting their product. I blame my profession for falling for their lies. I blame patients for expecting life to be without pain. But all this blame gives me little sense of where justice lies. I believe Lawrence Wasden has that sense.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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