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Lead Attorney For Local Governments Suing Purdue Pharma Discusses Tentative Deal


Today, the thousands of local and state governments suing Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid crisis have tentatively agreed to the terms of a settlement. Here are the broad outlines - Purdue, which makes the drug OxyContin, agrees to file for bankruptcy, though the company in its next iteration will continue to sell opioid products. Meanwhile, the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, will pay up to $3 billion in cash. Now the deal awaits court approval, which it is expected to receive.

I'm joined now by Joe Rice. He's one of the lead lawyers representing the states and local governments involved in the suit. Joe Rice, welcome.

JOE RICE: Hey, how are you tonight?

KELLY: I'm all right.

RICE: Good to be talking to you.

KELLY: Good to be talking to you. Lay out for me what your settlement does and why this is a good deal for your clients.

RICE: Well, I think it's a little bit overstatement to say it's a settlement as such. What it is is an agreement to a settlement process that has a outline of the settlement, which deals with the economic terms established. But there's a lot of details to work out.

KELLY: So a deal that may lead you towards a settlement as you continue...

RICE: That's right.

KELLY: ...To sift through details. All right.

RICE: It's a big step toward a resolution that works for the public clients that are looking to get assistance now to address the opioid epidemic.


RICE: It basically takes the Purdue company, the United States entity, and it's going to be reformed. And the Sacklers will be giving up ownership. And then there'll be a group of trustees selected that will manage it using the best business judgment rule. That company and whether it continues in business to sell non-opioid drugs or continues for a period of time to even sell OxyContin under appropriate standards with appropriate marketing with appropriate uses, is something that'll be decided.

KELLY: Let me put to you some of the objections that have been raised. Some state attorneys general are refusing to support this deal - among them, New York's Letitia James. She says the family's trying to evade responsibility, is low-balling the victims, is not paying a high enough price for their role in the opioid crisis. How do you answer that?

RICE: You know, they're giving up 100% of their ownership of Purdue. They're giving up 100% of their ownership of the international businesses. And whatever they get from the international businesses is going into the deal. I don't know what the right number is. I know what is on the table now. And I know that the Sackler family over the last 10 years has taken a lot of money out of Purdue. Eight members of the family were involved with the company. Twenty-something members of the family were never involved with the company.

The company - the family is spread out all over the country, all over the world. And you have to make reasoned judgments as to what recovery you could receive in the United States over what period of time and measure it against what is being proposed. And there's a difference of opinions.

KELLY: Let me ask you this. Why not wait and try to strike a deal that everyone was on board with, that all the states were with you on this? The judge in this case has been pushing for that.

RICE: Correct, but the interest of the states vary. And the company was basically burning through all of its assets in defending the litigation. And in end of the day, there would be nothing left to address the opioid epidemic. So those that are supporting and recommending the support are saying let's take at least the $4 or $5 billion in value that is fairly certain here, and let's make sure we get that and do something with it while it still exists. And then if the drugs pan out to be valuable, they'll add a couple billion dollars. And if the foreign assets are worth more than projected or, you know, even within the projections, that could take it on up to $6 or $7 or $8 billion. And that's a lot of money to treat people today. We don't need people continuing to die.

And I think there's a more important question that people don't focus on. OxyContin as a Purdue product goes off patent in 2024. So the future use of OxyContin in our country is not going to be because Purdue's going to make it. It's going to be because people are continuing to prescribe it. And that's how we're going to address the epidemic in the future is we've got to change the prescription habits. We've got to change the marketing. We've got to change the use of OxyContin in this country to address this opioid epidemic.

KELLY: Joe Rice, one of the lead lawyers representing states and local governments involved in this lawsuit.

Mr. Rice, thank you for your time.

RICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.