NOEL KING, HOST:
Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, filed its bankruptcy plan last night, and here is the plan. The company itself will be dissolved. A new organization will be created that will direct profits to help people hurt by the opioid epidemic. Now, two dozen states immediately rejected this plan. To help answer why, NPR's addiction correspondent Brian Mann is with us. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Noel.
KING: How did Purdue Pharma describe this plan working over time?
MANN: Yeah, so what the company's president, Steve Miller, says is that a new company is going to be created from the ashes of Purdue Pharma that's going to essentially exist to benefit the public. The Sacklers will have no role or ownership. And over time, this new firm will generate hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it from selling OxyContin, which they say they can do ethically and safely. They'll also produce medicines that will go to help people suffering from opioid addiction. And they say the total value of all that over time will be roughly $10 billion. Members of the Sackler family also issued a statement late last night saying this plan offers, and I'm quoting here, "an important step toward providing help to those who suffer from addiction."
KING: It was clearly thought through. Why did so many states come out and reject it offhand?
MANN: Yeah, there were months of negotiations leading up to this. And a big complaint from state attorneys general, most of them Democrats, Noel, is that Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sacklers, they're going to only offer up about $500 million right at first. The rest of the cash payments, including $4.2 billion promised by the Sacklers themselves - that would be spread out slowly in installments that would be paid over most of the next decade. And that slow pace really angers critics like Maura Healey. She's attorney general in Massachusetts.
MAURA HEALEY: What the Sacklers are offering essentially is a way for the payments to be structured that makes it convenient for them. They get to keep their billions in bank accounts and make money and use the interest to pay, you know, the states out over time while their OxyContin fortune keeps growing.
MANN: And there's one other rub here for critics, and that's the fact that a lot of that $10 billion in value that Purdue Pharma talks about - it doesn't actually come in the form of cash, which communities really need to pay for addiction programs. Instead, the plan envisions providing low-cost addiction treatment drugs like buprenorphine and naloxone, which this new spinoff company they hope to create would make and sell at a discount.
KING: OK, so Attorney General Maura Healey is saying, basically, this family is going to stay rich.
KING: It seems worth asking, if the federal bankruptcy court approves this plan, what does actually happen to the Sackler family?
MANN: Yeah. So what's happened here is after launching OxyContin and claiming it was safer than opioids, the Sacklers and their company, they made more than $30 billion in revenue. And Purdue Pharma has since, of course, pleaded guilty twice to federal criminal charges for marketing those opioids illegally. Researchers say that drug, OxyContin, contributed to this devastating explosion of addiction.
Now the Sacklers have agreed to give up control of their company, but some critics point out that Purdue Pharma was already sinking under all these lawsuits, so it's not clear how big a financial sacrifice that is. I asked artist Nan Goldin about this. She is an opioid activist after becoming addicted to opioid and losing years to OxyContin.
NAN GOLDIN: To me, I guess that's the most disturbing, is the idea that they'll walk away with impunity. I mean, this is a case of the 1% twisting justice.
MANN: So there's a lot of anger, Noel, as this now goes to a bankruptcy court in New York for approval.
KING: NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann. Thank you, Brian.
MANN: Thank you, Noel.
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