Milwaukee eyes opioid settlement

    Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn.owners, the Sackler family, are facing hundreds of lawsuits across the country for the company's alleged role in the opioid epidemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans over the past 20 years.
    Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

    Although news of an impending settlement with Purdue Pharma for helping fuel the opioid crisis sounds encouraging, things aren’t so simple. The hundreds of cities, towns and counties involved in opioid cases are now entering a negotiation process with the besieged pharmaceutical giant that makes OxyContin.

    “The court entered an order naming Milwaukee County one of 49 Negotiating Class representatives,” Milwaukee County Corporation Council Margaret Daun told Wisconsin Examiner. Highlighting the need for negotiating representatives, Daun explained, “this indicates, there is no final settlement.”

    Daun feels some media outlets reporting on the settlement negotiations are jumping the gun. She points to a particular piece in the New York Times that describes a “purported settlement” in Multi-District Litigation. Daun told Wisconsin Examiner that while a settlement as described in the Times would include Milwaukee, the county “has made no final determinations with respect to the acceptability of any putative settlement, and this reporting is premature.”

    One of the lawyers retained by nearly all other Wisconsin county opioid plaintiffs, Andrew Phillips, was also retained to advise Republican members of the state’s Joint Finance Committee on issues including confidentiality related to the state’s opioid lawsuit. Phillips has since stepped away from involvement in the state’s opioid settlement discussions because of conflicts with his prior work on the issue.

    “This apparent conflict, among others, is one of the many reasons that Milwaukee County opted to use a competitive process to ultimately select national and local outside counsel first to assist in the representation of Milwaukee County in our opioid suit,” says Daun.

    The tug-of-war between the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee and Attorney General Josh Kaul over the Joint Finance Committee’s involvement in all state lawsuits and whether this compromises confidentiality has bogged down the settlement process on a number of cases. When Kaul told members the committee that they would all have to individually sign non-disclosure agreements to become part of the settlement negotiation process, Republicans responded by retaining Phillips. Their attempts to have Phillips sign a single nondisclosure agreement for all of them were promptly shot down by the Department of Justice, as not workable in binding confidentiality. Kaul decided not to settle with Purdue Pharma, as the Examiner reported, as a part of this settlement, saying it did not provide justice.

    As the cases move forward, Daun remains confident in the Multi-District Litigation approach and settlement negotiations. “As this most recent turn of events demonstrates,” says Daun, “this strategy continues to be in the county’s best interest.” The Sackler Family, which owns Purdue Pharma, may ultimately pay billions in settlements and be forced to give up ownership of the company.

    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, and other outlets.

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