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$3 billion from Sacklers ‘just a down payment’ on opioid debt, says Conn. attorney general

The American opioid crisis has left a lethal mark. Experts estimate as many as 400,000 people may have died from overdoses and related problems in the past several decades. Now, more than 20 states appear to have reached a comprehensive settlement against Purdue Pharma, maker of opioid OxyContin. Amna Nawaz talks to Connecticut Attorney General William Tong about why he thinks it’s not enough.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The opioid crisis has left a huge toll and permanent scar across America and the lives of many families and individuals.

    The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that as many as 400,000 people died in the U.S. since the late '90s from prescription and illegal opioids. Now the first comprehensive settlement against a key manufacturer appears to have been reached.

    More than 20 states and more than 2,000 cities and counties have reportedly reached a deal with Purdue Pharma. That's the manufacturer of OxyContin.

    The case against the company was expected to go to court next month.

    Now, as Amna Nawaz reports, there are some asking whether this settlement is enough.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, to be clear, the deal is not yet finalized. But plaintiffs' lawyers and Purdue Pharma have confirmed they are working on a settlement.

    Now, the settlement would reportedly include a payout of up to $12 billion to states, cities and counties over a number of years, $3 billion from the Sackler family directly, which owns Purdue Pharma. The Sacklers would also give up control of Purdue Pharma.

    There would be a major change for the company as well. Purdue Pharma would declare bankruptcy. It would then be converted into a public trust focused on combating the opioid epidemic.

    Several attorneys general said this was a settlement in the best interest of their communities.

    But others are against it, including William Tong, the Connecticut attorney general. Purdue Pharma's headquarters are in his state.

    And he joins us live now.

    Attorney General Tong, thank you for being with us tonight.

    Let's just begin with the big question. Why are you opposed to this tentative settlement?

  • William Tong:

    Well, thank you for having me here tonight, Amna.

    I'm opposed because the scale and the depth of the destruction, the pain, the death that has been caused by Purdue and the Sacklers far exceeds this purported deal and proposed deal.

    And let's just be clear. No one, to my knowledge, has offered $12 billion guaranteed in cash, or $10 billion, for that matter. The basis of this is a $3 billion guarantee from the Sacklers. And beyond that, we don't know anymore.

    And that just doesn't cut it. The Sacklers have a real opportunity here and Purdue has an opportunity to make this right and to begin to meet their obligation to fund vital investments in addiction science, treatment, and prevention, because they started this fire, and they poured gasoline on it.

    And instead of trying to help put it out in all of the states, they're choosing to watch it burn.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, let's start with the Sackler family there. You mentioned that there is a $3 billion offer from them as part of this tentative deal.

    How much more would you like to see from them?

  • William Tong:

    I would like to see them meet their obligation to fund treatment and prevention and to really start to tackle this problem.

    This is, frankly, just a down payment. And there's so much more to be done. And we have been very clear about our principles. And I think that our beliefs are shared by a number of states that Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers have to get out of the opioid business completely, that Purdue Pharma has to get shut down, that it can't continue as a going for-profit company.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, sir, let me just point out that — let me just point out, as part of the reporting so far, the Sackler family would give up control of the Purdue Pharma, and Purdue Pharma would go into bankruptcy.

    So, you said you want the Sackler family to meet their obligation. What is the number that you are looking for? When you're in talks with them, and negotiations are ongoing, how would they meet that obligation, in your mind?

  • William Tong:

    I don't think that's clear that — under the terms of what has been reported on.

    And I'm not going to comment on specific negotiations. But it's clear to me that there has not been an agreement to shut down Purdue Pharma and for Purdue management and the Sacklers to get out of the opioid business completely in the U.S. and abroad, never to return.

    I don't think that that's been offered, and I don't think that's been agreed upon.

    With respect to the dollars, it's just clear to me that what's been offered isn't sufficient. And the scale of what is the largest public health crisis, at least in my lifetime, isn't met by $3 billion or something approximating that.

    And, certainly, there's been no offer of something like $10 billion or $12 billion that's been reported by the press. Any suggestion that there's an offer of that size in guaranteed, committed dollars to treatment and prevention is inaccurate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are several people who will say, look, $3 billion is a starting point. You're not being specific with how much money you would like to see. But those same victims and families that you say need your help, $3 billion would begin to help.

    And this wouldn't end the path for accountability. There are still several other litigation paths ahead. What do you say to that?

  • William Tong:

    It would — it would begin to help, but it doesn't do enough.

    And the fact is, Purdue Pharma pled guilty to federal criminal charges in 2007, and, after that, Purdue Pharma enabled the Sackler family to siphon off billions upon billions of dollars, well north of $3 billion, out of the company to line their own pockets.

    And they prioritized profits and protecting their own wealth over confronting a crisis that they led the way on and helped to create in this country that cost, by the way, more than 1,000 lives in Connecticut just last year, and even more this year, and billions and billions in damages, not just across the country, but in Connecticut alone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Attorney General Tong, I should ask you as well, though, even if this doesn't move ahead, there are several other players in this field.

    And I apologize. We have less than a minute left. But there is another trial, a federal trial in October, including a number of other opioid manufacturers and distributors and pharmacies.

    In other words, this is not the only player. So why not move with what you can now to get the money that could be available now, and then pursue other paths against other players?

  • William Tong:

    Because in our view, based on what we know of the billions of dollars that the Sacklers took out of the company, because of the tremendous damage that they have done, and the scope and the scale of the death and destruction and the pain that came at their hands, what's been offered so far doesn't even begin to meet what they owe the people of Connecticut and the people of this country.

    And the damage that they have caused far exceeds any offer that I have seen.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joining us tonight.

    Thank you very much.

  • William Tong:

    Thank you.

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