Wisconsin payment on hold as SCOTUS blocks Purdue Pharma opioid settlement

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a proposed settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, blocking a potential settlement that could have brought in tens of millions of dollars to help Wisconsin fight opioid addiction.

In a narrow ruling this week, a majority of justices struck down a provision in a bankruptcy plan that would have shielded members of the Sackler Family, who own Purdue Pharma, from personal liability.

Under the since-broke deal, the Sackler family would have funded most of a proposed settlement that could have provided $8 billion in total for state and local governments.

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If the deal had gone through, Wisconsin’s payout could have reached more than $70 million, said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat.

Wisconsin was among the states that sued Purdue Pharma in 2019, alleging the company fueled the opioid crisis through aggressive sales and false marketing of opioids, including the pain pill Oxycontin.

“There will be further delays before the dollars come to Wisconsin,” Kaul said in an interview with WPR. “There may also be more inconsistency from state to state about who recovers what.”

Now, Kaul expects negotiations to continue as Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy process resumes.

“We remain committed to holding Purdue and any members of the Sackler family accountable and also to maximizing the recovery we can obtain for Wisconsin,” Kaul said.

The decision will not affect opioid funds already paid in Wisconsin

The canceled deal with Purdue Pharma does not jeopardize more than $750 million in opioid mitigation dollars already earmarked for Wisconsin through 2038.

That funding came from multi-state settlements with other opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies.

Wisconsin first began distributing the money in fiscal year 2023.

In the next fiscal year, the state has set aside $36 million of those opioid court settlements for uses including drug treatment, school-based prevention programs, the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone and strips to test for the often-fatal painkiller fentanyl. .

Thirty percent of the money Wisconsin receives from these payments goes to the state, and the rest is earmarked for many local governments throughout Wisconsin.

In 2022, about 1,460 Wisconsinites died of opioid overdoses, which represents a record high, according to the most recent data available from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Purdue Pharma’s decision leaves local governments on hold

However, it remains to be seen how much money from Purdue Pharma will help localities.

Thursday’s Supreme Court decision “creates anxiety and uncertainty about when resources will be available to immediately support people who are struggling,” Morgan Finke, a spokesman for Madison & Dane County Public Health, wrote in an email.

“These funds are compensation for people who lost their lives and the terms and amounts of the settlement will now have to be renegotiated,” the email said. “Funding delays can have serious impacts. There is hope that the result could be increased funding over time, but there are many unknowns.”

The Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision did not fall along traditional partisan lines.

Kaul declined to say whether the high court made the right call, but said the justices faced a difficult decision in balancing the need for accountability for the Sackler family with the need to quickly approve relief for people suffering from opioid addiction.

“There’s a practical argument that we should be able to solve cases so we can bring dollars into the state to fight this epidemic,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t think that private individuals should be able to go bankrupt when they themselves don’t declare bankruptcy and all their possible liabilities disappear.”

For addiction help, call the free, confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit findtreatment.gov.

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