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Purdue Pharma’s Possible Bankruptcy

& The Uncertain Future of Big Pharma

Purdue Pharma, one of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies and the organization responsible for the opioid painkiller Oxycontin, has been slammed with over 1,600 lawsuits regarding its role in the opioid crisis. Many of the claims revolve around the company’s mismarketing of Oxycontin, including its attempts to downplay the drug’s risks, encourage doctors to prescribe large quantities, and steamroll any concerns about its impacts on local communities. But now that the opioid crisis has claimed over 400,000 American lives over the past two decades, many are starting to point fingers at the makers of one of the most popular prescription painkillers. 

Purdue’s owners, the Sackler family, have rejected two offers for settlement and have refused to offer any counterproposals, according to State attorneys general for Tennessee and North Carolina. On Saturday, the attorneys general said that they “expect Purdue to file for Bankruptcy immediately”.  

However, a Purdue spokesperson told NPR yesterday that negotiations are not over, and the Sackler family has offered $3 billion of their private funds to aid negotiations. 

If the company does choose to file for bankruptcy, this filing would pause all lawsuits against Purdue and shift them into bankruptcy court. This would allow more time for each of the (numerous) cases against Purdue to be processed, while the company continues to operate. Meanwhile, the company’s assets would be doled out to those whom the court rules in favor of, and distribution of those assets would occur once all rulings have been processed. 

However, The Wall Street Journal noted that the assets available for division will be somewhat limited – due to the Sackler Family taking a bulk of the company’s profits into their private funds. 

If they choose to settle, the state governments will obtain a large sum of money that can be put towards community reparation projects and anti-addiction programs. On the other hand, this settlement also means that Purdue has no legal obligation to alter the methods by which they distribute Oxycontin, despite any of their actions now falling under intense public scrutiny. 

It is unclear where this movement will end, or to what conclusion it will come to. Now that the earlier Johnson & Johnson ruling set an unfavorable legal precedent for pharmaceuticals accused of playing a role in the opioid crisis, will state courts continue to file suits and dismantle the kingpins of Big Pharma altogether? What would this mean for the opioid crisis, or for the distribution of prescription medications in America? 

Written by Joseph Detrano, CAS Science Writer
Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.