OxyContin-Maker Purdue Pharma Launched A Stealth Campaign To Sway U.S. Officials
With a federal judge poised to approve Purdue Pharma's controversial Chapter 11 plan, the company is working behind the scenes to preempt a legal challenge by the DOJ.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
NPR has learned that Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is working behind the scenes to persuade the U.S. Justice Department not to challenge its controversial bankruptcy plan. That plan is expected to be approved tomorrow by a federal judge in New York. The DOJ has signaled it might appeal one provision of the plan that grants immunity from opioid lawsuits to members of the Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma. NPR's Brian Mann broke this story today.
Brian, tell us what Purdue Pharma did here.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: So over the last few days, Leila, Purdue Pharma began distributing a letter written by its attorneys, which purports to be written by people injured by the company's opioid products. NPR acquired a draft of this letter. And I want to read to you one line. It says, (reading) we collectively speak for the overwhelming majority of the state and local governments, organizations and individuals harmed by Purdue and the Sacklers.
FADEL: But this was actually written by Purdue Pharma, sort of speaking in the voice of victims of the company's drug.
MANN: That's right. Three sources involved in negotiations surrounding this letter told NPR on background that Purdue Pharma hoped victims' groups and government officials would adopt the letter or some of its language, sign some version of it, and then send it along to the Justice Department. Purdue Pharma declined to comment on this letter, but NPR's sources say the company's ultimate goal was to pressure the DOJ not to challenge the legality of this bankruptcy deal in court.
FADEL: This bankruptcy plan hasn't been finalized yet. Why is Purdue Pharma doing this now?
MANN: Yeah, so federal Judge Robert Drain has indicated he's likely to approve this deal with the controversial element you mentioned - immunity from opioid lawsuits for members of the Sackler family who own this company, as well as their associates. So during the bankruptcy trial, the Justice Department signaled repeatedly they think those liability releases are improper and illegal. In this letter, now, distributed by Purdue Pharma, the company argues that if the DOJ does file an appeal, this whole settlement - worth more than $5 billion - could simply unravel.
FADEL: So Purdue Pharma launched this pressure campaign aimed at DOJ. How are people reacting?
MANN: Yeah, I spoke about this with Ryan Hampton. He's in recovery himself from opioid addiction. He says OxyContin ruined his life, and he served on one of the committees directly involved in this bankruptcy negotiation. His committee actually supports the overall settlement. But Hampton told me this letter from Purdue Pharma, where the company speaks in the voices of victims, was so outrageous to him that he resigned today from any role in the process.
RYAN HAMPTON: This letter was highly inappropriate. It was wrong. It was written, proposed and pushed at the 11th hour at the beckoning of Purdue Pharma.
MANN: And I should say the Justice Department declined comment on this. And also, according to our sources, members of the Sackler family who say they've done nothing wrong in all of this - they played no role drafting this letter.
FADEL: What happens next?
MANN: So Judge Drain, Leila, will rule on this bankruptcy plan tomorrow morning. And then a big question going forward is whether the Justice Department will file an appeal. We should learn that in the next few days.
FADEL: NPR's Brian Mann.
Thank you, Brian.
MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.