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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Appeals are mounting in Purdue Pharma bankruptcy settlement

FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. A judge formally approved a plan Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 to turn OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma into a new company no longer owned by members of the Sackler family and with its profits going to fight the opioid epidemic. A U.S. bankruptcy court judge signed the plan Friday, more than two weeks after giving it preliminary approval.  (Toby Talbot)
By Jennifer McDermott and Geoff Mulvihill Associated Press

Objections to a historic settlement with Purdue Pharma are mounting in the form of appeals, with Rhode Island’s attorney general saying Wednesday the plan doesn’t hold the OxyContin maker or its owners accountable for its role in sparking the opioid crisis.

Rhode Island appealed Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. Separate appeals have already been filed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Washington state, plus some Canadian local governments and other Canadian entities.

Any successful appeal could undo the deal, not just that state’s piece of it.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, a Democrat, said he doesn’t accept that the resolution between Purdue Pharma and thousands of state and local governments is sufficient. The Sackler family has not been transparent about its wealth, he said, so it’s difficult to calculate how much punishment any resolution will inflict.

Estimates have put the collective wealth of family members who own the company at over $10 billion.

Neronha also said he dislikes that the settlement protects the Sacklers from lawsuits over opioids.

The state would be entitled to an estimated $21.6 million over nine years, or about $2.4 million annually, he said.

“It’s just not a lot,” Neronha said. “It may sound like a lot, I guess, but it’s not a lot, given the scope of the problem, both past, present and future.”

A federal bankruptcy judge approved a plan this month to turn Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, into a new company no longer owned by members of the Sackler family, with its profits going to fight the opioid epidemic.

The deal resolves some 3,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and others who claimed the company’s marketing of prescription opioids helped spark and continue an overdose epidemic.

Company profits and $4.5 billion in cash and charitable assets from members of the Sackler family will be used to pay some individual victims and help fund opioid treatment and prevention programs.

Members of the Sackler family have said that while they dispute the allegations made about their family, they “embraced this path in order to help combat a serious and complex public health crisis.”

Purdue has said the settlement averts “years of value-destructive litigation” and ensures that billions of dollars will be used to help people and communities hurt by the opioid crisis.

Purdue said in an email Wednesday that the bankruptcy court and the vast majority of its creditors believe the settlement is the only way to fund programs to end the opioid crisis.

“Appeals will only further hurt the states, victims and creditors by delaying and eroding their recoveries,” the email read. “Now is the time for the remaining objectors to join the overwhelming majority of creditors so that billions of dollars can begin to flow as quickly as possible.”

Rhode Island’s case against opioid makers is scheduled for trial in state court in January. But the state’s claim and all others against Purdue were put on pause when the company filed for bankruptcy two years ago. The state’s only hope of being able to move ahead with a claim against the company would be winning an appeal.