Milwaukee County reacts to opioid settlement

By: - September 2, 2019 11:11 pm

“Opioid Epidemic” by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, would pay $3 billion and give up ownership of the company, if a settlement of thousands of lawsuits concerning over-prescription of opioid painkillers goes through. The Sacklers’ settlement offer comes after more than 2,000 lawsuits have been filed against Purdue by counties, cities, and towns nationwide, alleging that the company and its owners are responsible for the opioid crisis.

Under a novel plan to relinquish control of their company, Purdue Pharma, and resurrect it as a trust whose main purpose would be to combat the opioid epidemic, the Sacklers could raise most, if not all, of their personal share of the $10 billion to $12 billion agreement by selling their international drug conglomerate, Mundipharma,” The Washington Post reports.

There are pending actions against more than 15 companies, including Purdue, as part of a multi-district litigation (MDL) process. Milwaukee County filed it’s own lawsuit as part of the MDL, aiming to use settlements to repay damages caused by the opioid crisis. “There’s thousands of plaintiffs, multiple defendants,” says Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun.

Both the Purdue settlement and a separate court decision in Oklahoma, in which a judge ordered pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in damages, could affect the county’s case. “Three aspects of the ruling bode very well for Milwaukee County’s claims in the MDL,” Daun told Wisconsin Examiner. “The judge concluded that Johnson & Johnson had created a public nuisance as a matter of law. This is a powerful finding and helps our case substantially.”

The Oklahoma case only sought damages for a single year. “Our proof of damages would be more robust and cover many years.” Daun said. “The court found that Johnson & Johnson (through subsidiaries) supplied the active ingredient for 60% of the entire opioid market, a factual finding.” She told Wisconsin Examiner, “this is a big ruling because it puts Johnson & Johnson in the crosshairs in all other lawsuits.”

News about the pending Purdue settlement, under which the Sackler family would keep much of their personal fortune, will cause plaintiffs in the MDL to push forward their claims in case the company declares bankruptcy, Daun said. “Purdue Pharma was a major culprit in the creation of this epidemic,” Daun added. “It does not have the capacity to pay all of the legal claims. We are in active negations with Purdue and the Sackler family to obtain the best result possible for Milwaukee County before bankruptcy is filed.”

Drug Enforcement Administration data shows that from 2006 to 2012, over a billion prescription pain killers found their way into Wisconsin. According to the Washington Post, over 76 billion pills were distributed nationwide during the same period.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.