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Mass. attorney general on ‘outrageous’ Purdue Pharma settlement offer

Newly released court documents reveal that the family behind Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, withdrew over $10 billion from the company as the opioid epidemic grew worse. The developments are increasing scrutiny of the Sackler family and its liability for the deadly crisis. William Brangham reports and talks to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Newly released court documents reveal that the family behind Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, withdrew over $10 billion from the company as the opioid epidemic got worse and worse.

    As William Brangham reports, this will only increase the scrutiny of the Sackler family.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    As part of a bankruptcy filing in New York, an internal audit done by Purdue was released in court last night. That audit revealed that, in the first 12 years of OxyContin sales, from 1995 to 2007, Purdue distributed just over a billion dollars to the Sackler family.

    Then, in 2007, Purdue pled guilty to federal charges of misleading doctors and regulators about the addictiveness of OxyContin. And in the decade that followed, Purdue's distribution to the Sacklers skyrocketed to $10.7 billion. That money was being transferred even as the opioid crisis worsened, the death toll grew ever higher, and the lawsuits were ramping up.

    Maura Healey is the attorney general for Massachusetts. And she is one of the many attorneys general suing Purdue and the Sackler family.

    Attorney General, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    This audit that was done by Purdue showed, as I just described, that, from 2007 to 2017, $10 billion is moved from the company to the Sackler family. I get that there is an obvious outrage factor to that. What is the legal case that that transfer of money is a problem?

  • Maura Healey:

    Well, there is an outrage factor because, as the Sacklers are looking to pump as much Oxy into the market as possible, they're also sucking all of those profits from sales out of the company and putting those profits into their own pockets.

    It's legally of significance, because our state was the first state to sue not only Purdue, but the Sacklers individually for their direct role in the illegal, unlawful marketing and sale of Oxy.

    And the problem legally with what the Sacklers have done, and the reason we have sued them and the reason we're fighting them in court, is because the Sacklers, under law, shouldn't be able to shield themselves from liability, hide that money, essentially, that they have stolen, essentially, through this bankruptcy process.

    So, Purdue has filed bankruptcy. The Sacklers are trying to use that proceeding to say, hey, we don't need to pay any of that money back.

    And in the legal world, William, we talk about when a company or individuals do something bad, and they make a whole lot of money off of it. We call those ill-gotten gains. This is the very definition of an ill-gotten gain, and why the Sacklers need to be held accountable and need to pay up.

    That's what justice demands, and that's what families all over this country, William, are looking for.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you have a sense of where that money is right now?

  • Maura Healey:

    Well, this is part of the problem.

    I mean, the Sacklers have played games with their money for decades now. A lot of it has been moved offshore, and they have used all sorts of legal arrangements to shield those assets.

    We're going to continue to pursue them. I know my colleagues will also pursue them. But, hopefully, what this report shows is essentially what we had alleged at the time we filed our very complaint, that the Sacklers operated through greed, they exploited vulnerable people, they made boatloads of money off of it, and they took all of that money for themselves out of the company.

    That's why we will continue to fight them in the bankruptcy court, and that's why we will continue to pursue them.

  • William Brangham:

    We reached out to a lawyer for some of the Sacklers, and they gave us a statement today. I would like to read you part of that.

    And this lawyer said: "These distribution numbers were known at the time the proposed settlement was agreed to by two dozen attorneys general and thousands of local governments. They have been public for months. And this filing reflects the fact that more than half was paid in taxes and reinvested in businesses that will be sold as part of the proposed settlement. The Sackler family hopes to reach a productive resolution for the public benefit."

    So they're saying everybody knew about this, most of the money went to taxes and reinvestment. And, as you know, they have also put forward this idea that will pay $3 billion as part of this big national settlement.

    But I take it, from what you're saying, that's not enough?

  • Maura Healey:

    Oh, it's outrageous.

    Let's be clear, William, right? Ten billion — first of all, we didn't know the extent of everything that they had taken out from the company. And, frankly, we still don't know the full extent. More work needs to be done.

    Second, we don't know the net worth, the value, how much money the Sacklers actually have, because that is important. They are going to be held legally accountable, and they will need to pay up. So they have not been forthcoming with their financial information.

    This is a family that, through history, has sought to hide their financial assets. They continue to fight us at every turn. Remember, here, William, the only reason that we know this information is because Purdue, now in bankruptcy, controlled essentially by another entity, has produced this information.

    The Sacklers themselves have not been forthcoming. So, this is what we have seen from them and exactly why they need to pay up. As for the proposed deal, it stinks, OK? And that's what yesterday's audit report revealed.

    You're talking about a family that is offering to pay $3 billion, not, by the way, from their own pocket. They want that $3 billion to come from future Oxy sales overseas by their foreign company. They have not offered a dime of their own personal money, not to say the least of any of the profits, the $10 billion-plus that they took from the company in the last few years.

    So this is where we are with things. It's why the majority of A.G.s oppose the proposed settlement. We continue to fight this in court. And, ultimately, we're going to go wherever we need to go, so that there is justice. And justice will take the form of holding Purdue accountable, but also holding the Sacklers accountable.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, thank you very much.

  • Maura Healey:

    Great to be with you, William.

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