The news of the Department of Justice’s $8 billion opioid settlement with Purdue Pharma signals that there is a legal resolution within sight.
However, much of this federal settlement will go toward criminal fines and penalties. Of the $8 billion, $2 billion will go toward civil penalties: $225 million now and $1.775 billion later. The U.S. Treasury has agreed to earmark $1.775 billion for municipalities, states, and tribes to abate the opioid crisis. Only $225 million of the settlement will be set aside in a “public benefit trust” and will go toward states and local communities for use now. Purdue will also be providing addiction medications to patients in need as part of this settlement—but the cost of those medications will come out of the $8 billion.
Through separate Purdue bankruptcy proceedings, only families that have filed wrongful death lawsuits against Purdue for the loss of their loved one to OxyContin will receive settlement dollars, in an amount yet to be determined.
Purdue is only one of many manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies being sued for their role in the opioid epidemic. While accountability is key, for the families who’ve known the ultimate pain of burying a loved one, there is no resolution or amount of money that will make that pain disappear. But there is the hope that no other family will have to suffer the same tragedy. With the promise of forthcoming settlement dollars, we have an opportunity to turn that hope into a reality. We have a chance to ensure that the settlement dollars go toward evidence-based solutions and treatment for addiction.
This federal settlement is separate from the other lawsuits consolidated in the opioid multi-district litigation. While this separate civil litigation is ongoing, it’s critical to ensure that Purdue and the other defendants are not able to promote products with a propensity for addiction again. It might seem unfathomable, but as of right now, Purdue will still be able to produce OxyContin for pain and will not be barred from investing in future addictive products.
As the federal settlement dollars begin to come in, we must ensure that this money is spent wisely. To understand what’s at stake here, we can look to past examples. In comparison, the historic tobacco settlement was $246 billion—but much of it was diverted to fill state budget gaps. Only 2-3% of the total settlement was spent on tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Furthermore, tobacco companies like Altria invested in vaping products like Juul, and we should all be concerned that the same marketing tactics that addicted young people to smoking are not being used again. This would be an egregious development and one that we cannot stand for with the companies currently under fire for the opioid crisis.
We must protect future generations and the health of our young people if we are to have any hope for change. What we can expect from the forthcoming settlement depends on our collective action to ensure states spend these dollars wisely.
Courtney Gallo Hunter is Shatterproof's Vice President of State Policy.