MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Fifteen states have agreed to give up their fight against a controversial bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin. The settlement plan forces the Sackler family to give up ownership of their bankrupt company. It also ensures the release of millions of once-secret documents. And it would mean the Sacklers would pay slightly more, bringing the total settlement amount to roughly $4.2 billion. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who was the first attorney general to sue the Sacklers, she had blasted a previous plan, but in a press conference today, she called the new settlement a big win.
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MAURA HEALEY: Today's resolution delivers the most important things we've been fighting for - a reckoning that exposes the Sackler's misconduct, strips them of their power and provides money that will be dedicated entirely to prevention, treatment and recovery.
KELLY: But nine states and the District of Columbia are still holding out against the settlement, including Connecticut. And we're joined now by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. Hey there. Welcome.
WILLIAM TONG: Hey, Mary Louise. How are you?
KELLY: I am well. Thank you. So I'll start by asking, why not sign on?
TONG: It just doesn't provide enough justice. We lose more than a thousand people every year in Connecticut. That's more than a thousand Connecticut families wrecked by the opioid and addiction crisis in which the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma played a central role. And this causes more than $10 billion of economic damage to the state of Connecticut. And as far as I can tell, the Sacklers have stashed away their wealth. They're not selling any cars or boats or art or houses. And they have to do more to pay for the harm that they caused people in Connecticut and across the country. And this isn't enough.
KELLY: But as we heard your counterpart in Massachusetts arguing there, this settlement does do a lot. It would increase the payout from the Sacklers. It would release a huge number of documents, emails and communications and other things, going back a decade. Why are you not swayed by that argument?
TONG: So it does do something. That's true. And General Healey did a lot in pushing for the document disclosure. But the representation that it pays out $4.5 billion, that's paid over nine years. And so on a present-value basis, it's not $4.5 billion.
KELLY: And I'll jump in and just say I know you're using the number $4.5 billion. I think I mentioned $4.2 billion. These numbers are still working their way out.
TONG: Right. Right.
KELLY: But we're talking somewhere north of $4 billion. Let me push you, though, because, you know, we all know perfect can be the enemy of the good. And I don't hear anyone arguing this is a perfect settlement. But is it not better than no settlement?
TONG: Yeah, it's never going to be enough, and I acknowledge that. But at the end of the day, this is not just a normal litigation. My job is to pursue justice for families and victims here in Connecticut. And frankly, it's really important to note, this is an abuse of the bankruptcy process. The Sacklers are not bankrupt. They have tens of billions of dollars that they've pilfered from this company. And for them to use the bankruptcy process to shield themselves and protect themselves is an outrage.
KELLY: On a practical level, does this fight get harder for you, with Massachusetts and New York among the states dropping opposition?
TONG: It's always been a hard fight. I knew that when I got into it. But the reason why Connecticut is so aggressive in playing a central role in this is, of course, because I'm the home state attorney general. Purdue Pharma is based in my home city of Stamford, Conn., and many of the Sacklers have in the past and still do call Connecticut their home. So to me, it means that I have a special obligation to be aggressive to hold them accountable.
KELLY: So what's your next move?
TONG: I'm in constant communication with the eight other states and the District of Columbia who are a no on this settlement proposal, and we are considering and pursuing all of our viable options.
KELLY: That is Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. Thank you so much.
TONG: Thank you so much.
KELLY: And I want to note, NPR reached out to members of the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler branches of the family. In a statement, they praised the decision by more states to accept the settlement, saying, quote, "this resolution to the mediation is an important step toward providing substantial resources for people and communities in need."
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