NOEL KING, HOST:
The consulting company McKinsey has reached a $573 million deal with several states over work it did advising opioid-makers on how to market their products. The states allege that McKinsey's work increased sales of highly addictive medications.
News of the deal was just made public this morning, and NPR's addiction correspondent Brian Mann is following it. Good morning, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: What did McKinsey do for the opioid companies?
MANN: Yeah. So McKinsey is this corporation that provides consulting services to just about everybody - governments, corporations - hugely influential firm. And last year, Noel, documents were disclosed in court showing that their team worked behind the scenes to help companies like Purdue Pharma turbocharge - and that was their word - turbocharge the sale of these highly addictive opioid drugs like OxyContin. Here's North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein talking about the work they did just a few minutes ago.
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JOSH STEIN: McKinsey's efforts worked. The number of pills prescribed, Purdue's profits and McKinsey's fees skyrocketed - but so did the number of people addicted, the number of people overdosed, the number of lives lost.
MANN: And I should say, this work continued as late as 2018, long after the dangers of these medications were widely known. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
KING: Attorney General Josh Stein, who we just heard there, was one of several state attorneys general who worked on this deal. What are they saying about the settlement this morning?
MANN: Yeah. In all, 47 states have signed on to this deal. And these attorneys general are describing this as a landmark in the ongoing national effort to hold companies accountable for their role in selling and marketing these addictive drugs. And I should add that despite this deal and the settlement, a lot of these AGs are still harshly critical of McKinsey. New York Attorney General Letitia James, just a few minutes ago, issued a statement to NPR. She called the company's behavior cynical and calculated.
KING: What does McKinsey say?
MANN: Yeah. Well, first, it's important that in this settlement, the company admits no wrongdoing, and that's a pattern for a lot of these corporate settlements that we've seen. In a statement sent to NPR this morning, the company said, we deeply regret that we did not adequately acknowledge tragic consequences of the opioid epidemic unfolding in our communities. McKinsey has also committed to not take on consulting work in the future linked to opioid products.
KING: At the end of the day, they're going to pay - the company is going to pay $573 million. And what will that money do?
MANN: Yeah. Most of this money will go to pay for drug rehab and treatment programs around the country, helping communities and families who are caught up in this addiction crisis. You know, this has been going on for years and years, but the opioid problem has actually gotten a lot worse during the pandemic, with a record number of overdose deaths. Last year, more than 81,000 people lost their lives. So the communities that we've been talking to, they say this money is just desperately needed right now.
One other interesting thing here is that officials say some of this cash will go to pay for a public document repository where people will be able to see internal documents showing the role McKinsey and other companies played.
KING: Oh, that should be interesting.
Brian Mann covers opioids and addiction for NPR. Brian, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.
MANN: Thank you.
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