Owners of Purdue Pharma face more than 2,000 lawsuits by officials who blame prescription opioids for sparking drug crisis
The members of the multi-billionaire Sackler family who own the painkiller manufacturer Purdue Pharma and are being sued by hundreds of state and local officials as part of opioids litigation want to settle, a top lawyer for the family has said.
Mary Jo White represents four members of the family that controls Purdue, the company that developed and marketed the painkiller OxyContin. Purdue, along with other opioid makers, wholesalers and distributors, is facing more than 2,000 lawsuits by state, city and county officials who blame prescription opiates for sparking an unprecedented epidemic of drug abuse.
In rare public comments on behalf of the Sacklers who are being sued, White explained this week that the family believes the litigation against them and their company is legally dubious, factually misleading and politically motivated.
But White, of the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, also said the Sacklers do not want to litigate these cases to their bitter end.
The family, she said, in the first public disclosure indicating the familys stance on the opioids litigation, want to settle.
The objective is, and remains, to try to achieve a global resolution, White, a former Manhattan US attorney and Securities and Exchange Commission chair, told Reuters. Purdue and the Sackler family members, given this litigation landscape, would like to resolve with the plaintiffs in a constructive way to get the monies to the communities that need them, to the people that are addicted rather than to pay attorneys fees for years and years and years to come.
She added: Youre talking 2,000 cases. How long will they take to go through the court system?
The Sackler family has not previously said it wants to settle the litigation globally, said Joe Rice of Motley Rice, co-lead counsel in multi-district litigation consolidating about 1,500 opioid suits against Purdue and others in federal court in Cleveland. It appears Ms White has now made public the willingness to settle, he said in an email. The issue is who are they, what are they willing to settle, how, when, and for what consideration.
White acknowledged that settling more than 2,000 cases will not be easy. You have municipalities and counties as well as state attorneys general involved in these matters, she said. And getting all of those plaintiffs in a global resolution is very difficult.
White does not represent all eight Sackler family members named in the opioids litigation. A different wing of the family has counsel from Paul Weiss, Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and Joseph Hage Aaronson. A representative from that branch told Reuters, however, that the entire family shares Whites view.
Purdue and its billionaire owners, who have been named individually in more than 200 suits, have been singled out for public opprobrium, especially after a Massachusetts state-court judge unsealed a 277-page complaint by the attorney general Maura Healey in January. The Massachusetts complaint accused members of the Sackler family of orchestrating a marketing scheme aggressively to push sales of OxyContin, netting them billions of dollars at the expense of patients who became addicted to prescription painkillers.
White contends that state politicians and plaintiffs lawyers working for contingency fees have contorted the law on public nuisance, negligence and fraud in an attempt to hang liability on companies that sold government-approved products under tight federal regulation.
The family and Purdue Pharma vigorously deny any wrongdoing and deny all the allegations made against the company and family members being sued.
The family members individually named as defendants in the relevant lawsuits include Richard Sackler, Beverly Sackler, David Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Jonathan Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Mortimer DA Sackler and Theresa Sackler. They all belong to the multi-billionaire part of the family connected to the late Raymond and the late Mortimer Sackler.
A separate branch of the family that is related to the late Arthur Sackler, elder brother of Mortimer and Raymond, has not profited from Purdue Pharma.
The claims are huge. An expert plaintiffs witness in the nationwide case being argued in Cleveland recently estimated that it will cost nearly half a trillion dollars to account for the opioids crisis. The pain, death and heartache wrought cannot be overstated, wrote the US district judge Dan Polster in a December 2018 decision refusing to dismiss multi-district litigation (MDL) claims by Cleveland and two Ohio counties.
MDL co-lead counsel Paul Hanly of Simmons Hanly Conroy rejected Whites contention that plaintiffs are trying to capitalize on anti-opioids sentiment. Our cases assert strong legal, not political, claims against the Sacklers and all of the other defendants, he said in an email.
The Sacklers regard the Massachusetts AGs complaint as particularly misleading, and put forward an argument for dismissal earlier this month, arguing that Healey flagrantly misrepresented many of the documents cited in her complaint and does not even have jurisdiction over any of the family members.
Healey responded in an email statement: For years, members of the Sackler family tried to shift the blame and hide their role in creating and profiting off the opioid epidemic, she said. Our lawsuit exposed their illegal deception, and we will aggressively pursue our case against them.
White said she is very optimistic that judges will eventually agree that her clients and other Purdue directors are not individually liable, if the litigation gets that far.
But the Sacklers, she said, would rather it end with a global deal.
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