Senators question DOJ on Sackler family, Purdue Pharma deal

Six U.S. Senators are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to justify the department’s deal with Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family regarding their role in the nation’s opioid crisis.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) were joined by Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in asking the DOJ to answer questions regarding the department’s decision-making process when it came to a proposal to reorganize Purdue Pharma (Purdue) into a “public benefit company” (PBC).

In October, the DOJ announced an $8 billion settlement with the company and the Sackler family that owned it. Within the deal was a provision that dissolved Purdue as a business and reorganized it into a PBC that could continue to sell OxyContin and other opioids, with the profits going to abatement programs in the cities and states that have sued the company for its part in the opioid crisis.

The senators wrote on Nov. 17 to U.S. Attorney General William Barr that the provision would create a “significant conflict of interest” because it would give states and local governments responsible for regulating the opioid industry a financial interest in the sale of opioids.

Several state attorneys general have also come out against the proposal and urged the DOJ to rescind it.

“DOJ failed to do its job. The Sacklers’ OxyContin business doesn’t deserve special treatment, and we’ll fight to stop it,” said Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey. “This is the same business that ravaged our communities for far too long. I’m proud of and grateful to our Massachusetts senators and their colleagues who are sounding the alarm and seeking the answers that families and survivors deserve.”

In their letter, the senators asked the DOJ to provide them with information about its process for deciding to include the reorganization of the company into the settlement agreement, what alternatives it considered, the precedent for the DOJ’s decision, and how the DOJ assessed the value of the resulting PBC.

“Purdue and the Sackler family must be held fully accountable for their role in accelerating the nation’s deadly opioid crisis,” the senators wrote. “The proposed restructuring of the company, however, seems to hamstring the ability of state and local governments, victims and survivors, and other stakeholders to do so, reducing the company’s liability, and allowing it to continue, under an unusual business partnership, to sell opioids.”

Liz Carey

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