U.S. Supreme Court ruling upends $183M opioid settlement payment for WA

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday derailed a $183 million payment to Washington that was part of a broader bankruptcy plan for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.

The deal involved the Sackler family, which owned and controlled the company, paying up to $6 billion to help states, cities, and tribes address the harms of the opioid addiction epidemic. But the court ruled 5-4 that a key element, shielding the family from related opioid lawsuits, was not allowed.

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruling today invalidated the bankruptcy plan,” Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office said in an email. “This means that our $183 million settlement is invalidated too. No money was paid to Washington while this appeal was pending.”

The state’s case against the company will now head to mediation, Aho said.

Ferguson applauded the ruling.

“The Supreme Court was right to remove the shield blocking my office from holding the Sackler family directly responsible for their role fueling the opioid epidemic,” he said in a statement.

“My legal team is preparing a lawsuit against the Sackler family if the upcoming mediation does not lead to significant resources for Washington,” he added.

Apart from the Purdue case, litigation brought by the state attorney general’s office has yielded $1.1 billion for Washington from companies involved in the opioid industry.

Purdue began selling OxyContin in the mid-1990s. The drug and the company are blamed for playing an early role in igniting the opioid crisis.

A Purdue affiliate pleaded guilty in 2007 to a federal felony for misbranding the drug as less addictive and less subject to abuse than other painkiller medications, leading to a flood of civil lawsuits.

Washington was among 48 states that sued the company. And Ferguson was among nine attorneys general who challenged a 2021 bankruptcy plan for Purdue where the Sacklers would’ve paid only $4.3 billion.

As lawsuits loomed and piled up between 2008 and 2016, the family siphoned away about $11 billion — roughly 75% — of Purdue’s total assets.

— By Bill Lucia, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and X.

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