By Mike Spector
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Members of the Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma LP have offered roughly $4.3 billion to resolve sprawling opioid litigation, up from $3 billion initially proposed in settlement discussions underway in the OxyContin maker's bankruptcy proceedings, four people familiar with the matter said.
Sackler family members are now willing to contribute $4.275 billion to help settle about 3,000 lawsuits brought by U.S. communities seeking to hold them and Purdue responsible for damage wrought by the opioid epidemic, the sources said.
Purdue and representatives for the Sacklers declined to comment or did not immediately respond to requests.
Details of a far-reaching settlement could be outlined in a Purdue reorganization plan filed in a U.S. bankruptcy court next week. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 facing on onslaught of opioid litigation. In November, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company pleaded guilty to three felonies arising from its marketing of prescription opioid painkillers.
A previous proposed settlement that Purdue values at more than $10 billion guaranteed $3 billion from the Sacklers over seven years, with additional funds from family members contingent on sales of other international businesses they own. That offer as a practical matter decreased to $2.775 billion after the Sacklers agreed to pay $225 million to settle a Justice Department civil probe.
Under terms of the latest proposal, the Sacklers could still use proceeds from sales of those businesses to cover the higher $4.275 billion payout, but would need to make good on it regardless. It is not clear how long the Sacklers would take to pay the proposed higher amount, but it would likely be a period of years, the sources said.
Settlement negotiations are ongoing and no final agreement, including on how much the Sacklers will pay, has yet been reached among the family members, Purdue and U.S. communities suing over the opioid crisis.
Elsewhere in the settlement negotiations, some litigants have been pushing for Purdue to explore a sale in lieu of a current proposal to dissolve itself and shift assets to a public benefit company or similar entity run on behalf of plaintiffs and no longer controlled by the Sacklers, two people familiar with the matter said.
Attorneys general from two dozen states and Washington, D.C., have opposed that plan because the new entity would continue selling OxyContin, which they view as improperly entangling them with the addictive painkiller.
Purdue in November admitted to defrauding U.S. officials and paying illegal kickbacks to both doctors and an electronic healthcare records vendor, part of widespread criminal misconduct that facilitated improper opioid prescriptions.
The company overall agreed to $8.3 billion in criminal in civil penalties to resolve U.S. Justice Department probes, most of which will go unpaid. A $3.54 billion criminal penalty and $2.8 billion civil penalty are set to be considered alongside trillions of dollars in unsecured claims as part of Purdue's bankruptcy proceedings.
Purdue agreed to pay $225 million toward a $2 billion criminal forfeiture, with the Justice Department foregoing the rest if the company's bankruptcy reorganization creates a public benefit company or similar entity steering the remaining $1.775 billion to U.S. communities for combating the opioid crisis.
Sackler family members have not been criminally charged. They agreed to pay $225 million to resolve allegations they caused false claims for OxyContin to be made to government healthcare programs such as Medicare. They have denied the allegations.
The opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of roughly 450,000 people across the United States since 1999 due to overdoses from prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Purdue's bankruptcy filing halted litigation against the company and its Sackler family owners. Since then, the company has been working toward proposing a reorganization plan that would serve as blueprint for settling the thousands of outstanding lawsuits.
Purdue's proposal to resolve cases in a deal it values at more than $10 billion is largely contingent on future donations of overdose reversal and addiction treatment medications the company has under development.
How much the Sacklers will contribute has long been a key sticking point in negotiations among family members, Purdue and plaintiffs. Many states rejected their initial $3 billion offer as too low.
In December, two Sackler family members offered apologies when testifying before a congressional panel over the role OxyContin played in the opioid crisis. The family members, both of whom previously served on Purdue’s board, insisted they were assured by management that the company was meeting regulatory and legal requirements as the opioid crisis unfolded.
(Reporting by Mike Spector; Editing by Nick Zieminski)