SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
New York's Attorney General Letitia James says the Sackler family used wire transfers, Swiss bank accounts and real estate deals to hide a billion dollars in profits from the sale of their opioid medication OxyContin. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma. That company faces thousands of lawsuits stemming from its role in this nation's opioid crisis, but this latest information comes from a lawsuit aimed directly at the Sackler family.
North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann joins us now. Brian, thanks so much for being with us.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: Last week, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers reached a tentative deal with thousands of plaintiffs over those lawsuits and - which would've paid up, I guess, $3 billion out of their personal fortune. Why did most state attorneys general reject that deal?
MANN: Well, what they say, basically, Scott, is that Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers aren't paying enough under this deal. They think the family is worth around $13 billion. That's the Forbes family - the magazine estimate. And the vast majority of that came from pushing really aggressively to turn OxyContin into a bestselling drug. So these AGs want members of the family to cough up more of what they describe as ill-gotten gains.
I will say the family sent an email to NPR this week. They said the deal on the table will drain a lot of their personal wealth and mean them giving up Purdue Pharma, this company that they own outright.
SIMON: What is it that New York's attorney general and her team say they found?
MANN: Well, this is really interesting. They say they've found evidence that the Sacklers were trying to conceal their wealth in order to avoid paying an appropriate settlement. This is something we've heard even from sources who support the deal on the table, the idea that the Sacklers have worked strategically over the years to drain money out of Purdue Pharma and position those assets all over the world to make them harder to seize. In a statement, Letitia James accused the Sacklers of lowballing victims to skirt a responsible settlement while trying to shield their financial misconduct.
The Sacklers say James and other attorneys general are on a fishing expedition with these suits. They've countersued to squash the investigation. And they also say they're making a good-faith effort now to settle all these lawsuits.
SIMON: Brian, you cover opioid litigation for NPR. More than 218,000 Americans have died from prescription opioid overdoses. What do you see as the likelihood of communities and families actually getting money or some kind of compensation?
MANN: Yeah. I think it's unlikely that it will happen anytime soon, Scott. The legal fight is happening on a lot of fronts right now, so that's going to slow things down. Ohio - just let me give you one example. They've already received tens of millions of dollars in compensation from other drug companies that sold opioid medications and settlements. But because of a legal fight there, none of that money can be spent helping people. It's just sitting in a bank account. And as the money amounts grow here, up into the billions now, the legal fight over who gets all of this cash will likely grow, too.
And one other thing that happened this week that kind of got covered up by all the other news is that a federal judge expanded the scope of a big opioid trial set to get underway next month in Ohio. That case is now going to eventually shape compensation for tens of thousands of communities around the U.S. So this just keeps getting bigger and more complicated at a time when a lot of people do need help.
SIMON: Brian Mann is with North Country Public Radio. He covers opioid litigation for NPR. Brian, thanks so much for being with us.
MANN: Sure thing, Scott.
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