Critics say the settlement doesn't hold company executives or members of the Sackler family accountable for their aggressive marketing of OxyContin, which helped fuel the nation's opioid epidemic.



The Department of Justice just announced a settlement with Purdue Pharma, the drug company makes the opioid OxyContin. Critics accused Purdue and its owners, the Sackler family, of helping to fuel the prescription opioid epidemic. NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann is covering this. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: OK. What are the terms?

MANN: Well, look. This is a complicated deal. Basically what it means is that Purdue Pharma's going to pay out about $8.3 billion. The Sackler family, the owners of this company, will also give up control of this firm, which they really created and helped to popularized opioids over the last 20 years. The Justice Department says a lot of this money, many of these resources will go to communities around the U.S. hard-hit by this addiction epidemic. Remember, about a quarter-million Americans have died from prescription opioid overdoses alone.

And the cost to these communities of recovering - even before the coronavirus pandemic, this was a devastating public health crisis. And what the Justice Department says is that this deal will route funds to those communities. One other interesting detail is that Purdue Pharma will now become a public trust company, and that's very controversial. That's something that a lot of critics have pointed to as something of deep concern.

INSKEEP: Although there is some criticism of this agreement already, even though it's just been announced. What is it that critics would say is not enough in the Sacklers giving up the entire company and some of their personal fortunes?

MANN: Well, one of the things that's happening here is that the Sackler family will walk away with much of their personal fortune. This deal, Steve, calls for them to pay out about $225 million in their personal assets. Critics, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has sued the Sacklers directly, say that's not nearly enough. She put out a statement just minutes ago saying this doesn't hold them accountable for the pain and destruction left by what she described as their greed. Another thing that is really interesting here is that this public trust company - we'll still have to see the details of how it's organized - but this will sort of put the government in the job of producing opioid medications.

This will put the government very closely in connection with a company that caused one of the major public health crises or at least contributed to it over the last couple of decades. A lot of state attorneys general say they don't like that arrangement. They think it creates a kind of umbrella for the Sacklers and Purdue that could prevent future prosecutions.

INSKEEP: Wow. How are communities that are hard-hit by opioids supposed to get the money from this deal?

MANN: A lot of that is still - we're going to have to see how the details of this process works. What the Justice Department said today is that this will provide extraordinary resources. They also say that under this newly organized public trust company, opioid medications will continue to be provided. Remember, these medications do actually have a medical purpose when they're prescribed appropriately. They say that this will route resources, both in terms of medications and funds, to many of those communities.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks for the update, always appreciate it.

MANN: Very good. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann on news today of a settlement between the government and Purdue Pharma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.