Last week the Vermont Attorney General’s Office announced that a bankruptcy settlement with opioid maker Purdue Pharma cleared another legal hurdle.
The plan would give the Sackler family â the company’s owners and founders â legal protection against future civil lawsuits over Purdue’s role in creating the opioid epidemic. In exchange, the Sackler family would pay up to $6 billion nationwide.
The development comes after Vermont recorded highest number of opioid overdose deaths in state history last yearalthough authorities have yet to release December data.
Vermont could receive up to nearly $38 million under the Purdue deal. That’s up from the roughly $12.5 million payment from an earlier Purdue bankruptcy settlement that Vermont and several other states appealed late last year.
VPR’s Grace Benninghoff spoke with Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan about recent developments in the case. Their conversation is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Grace Benninghoff: This deal is about a threefold increase from the original Purdue bankruptcy settlement that your office rejected in December. Are you satisfied with the new colony?
Attorney General TJ Donovan: Grace, I don’t think there will ever be enough money to repair the damage the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma have done to the state of Vermont, and to the thousands of Vermonters and families who have suffered from addiction. . I remember in 2012 someone asked me what was the biggest problem in the state of Vermont. And without hesitation, I said, “Prescription drugs, Oxycontin.” And very soon after Oxys came to Vermont, we got into a real heroin crisis. And we are still dealing with it 10 years later. So there will never be enough money.
But to have that tripling at a time when our overdose deaths are on the rise, when people are still struggling with addiction, when people are still coming out of this terrible pandemic over the past two years, we need resources. We need money. And we have to help Vermonters. That’s why I think it was the right decision to make this deal.
Throughout this process, you have insisted that you want the Sackler family to be held accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. Although the settlement payment is larger, the family does not admit to any wrongdoing. What changed for you to accept this settlement?
In addition to money, there are a few other injunctive conditions. First, transparency is extremely important here, where people need to know the full story of what happened. And as part of this agreement, thousands and thousands of documents will have to be deposited in a public repository.
Naming rights ensured that institutions such as the [Metropolitan Museum of Art] and others who want to remove the Sackler name, because of these charitable donations, they can’t object.
And perhaps most importantly, and incredibly moving, is that we have ensured that victims and survivors have the right to speak in court for the first time. It happened, I think, a week or two ago; it was reported in the media. Incredibly, incredibly powerful, incredibly painful.
So this issue of accountability â I think a higher power is going to sit in judgment at the end of the day. For me, my job is to help Vermonters. People struggling with addiction need help. And that’s why I think this deal was the right one to make.
In that vein, where will Vermont’s share of the settlement money actually go? And what will it be used for?
“It can’t just be about profit and greed – there has to be corporate responsibility. There has to be a change in the way these companies operate.”
Vermont Attorney General, TJ Donovan
The money must go to depollution. Which means that to deal with the crisis, an advisory council is being created by the Legislative Assembly. And there are different stakeholders who will be part of this council: municipal officials, people from the Ministry of Health. But perhaps most important to me is that you’re going to have people from the treatment and recovery community. This money needs to go back to local communities, and anything that works â anything you can think of â will go towards solving this crisis. It goes to processing. It goes to recovery. It also involves prevention. We need to invest in prevention so the next generation never gets started.
And so I’m really excited if we go through this board process â and we really engage and endorse it in an open-minded process where we listen to people about what’s worked for them to get sober , which helped them recover. Because it’s really, really a unique experience where you meet people where they are. I know, from being in the courtroom, I can tell you that no jail cell or probation has ever, ever gotten someone sober.
So you really have to listen to people. We have to be creative. We must be open-minded. We have to be innovative, but it has to be local. And it has to be driven by people in the community who have had experience with these professionals, and treatment, recovery, and investment in prevention, as I said, for the next generation.
More RVPs: AG says Vt. to get $64 million in opioid settlement with Johnson & Johnson, 3 other companies
The Purdue plan is actually one of three settlements from last year between the state of Vermont and opioid-related companies. Are we seeing a national shift in how these companies are held accountable for their involvement in the painkiller industry?
You had these settlements with Cardinal and McKesson and McKinseyâthese are big companies. And I think what these settlements represent is an accounting, that we’re going to hold corporate America accountable when they engage in these behaviors, and in this conduct, which is unfair, deceptive, which hurts Vermonters and other Americans. And it can’t just be about profit and greed – there has to be corporate responsibility. We need to change the way these companies operate. And it’s really about not hurting people. And I think it was a settling of scores with the Sackler family and corporate America.
So I hope these business practices will change. If they don’t, we will always stand up and do the right thing and protect Vermonters.
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