- Purdue Pharma reached a potential $12 billion settlement with 23 states and more than 2,000 individual cases accusing the company of driving the country’s opioid crisis.
- Under the details of the agreement, the company’s owners — the Sacklers —would need to pay $3 billion of the total, apply Purdue for bankruptcy, and dissolve the company.
- A new company would then form, continuing to sell the painkiller OxyContin while also donating addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.
Tentative $12B Settlement
Purdue Pharma tentatively reached a massive settlement with more than 2,000 local governments after being sued for propagating by the United States’ opioid crisis, a move that will reportedly cost the company $12 billion dollars.
The settlement, agreed upon by 23 states, also stipulates that the owners of Purdue — the Sackler family — must relinquish their ownership and pay $3 billion of the grand total over a seven-year period.
Forbes estimates the Sacklers net worth at $13 billion, but the family’s penalty might actually end up coming from the sale of their overseas pharmaceutical company Mundipharma. If, however, the Sacklers make more than $3 billion from the sale of Mundipharma, they could end up paying up to another $1.5 billion.
Purdue manufactures OxyContin, an opioid painkiller that many have claimed drove the opioid crisis the country currently faces. The conglomeration of lawsuits against Purdue seeks to hold the company accountable for hundreds of thousands of overdoses beginning in the mid-1990s.
Purdue would also be expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, effectively dissolving the company. That, in turn, would allow the formation of a new company that would continue to sell OxyContin and other medicine. Money made from those sales would then help pay alleged victims from the lawsuits.
Additionally, Purdue would donate addiction treatment and overdose reversal drugs.
“Purdue Pharma continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement.
Notably, the settlement allows Purdue to avoid publishing an admission of wrongdoing.
The agreement, however, is not finalized. The company’s board must still agree to the settlement, and a bankruptcy court judge must also approve it.
If the settlement goes through, Purdue will avoid an upcoming October trial in Cleveland, which would be the first federal trial involving a company potentially being held accountable for the opioid epidemic. Attorneys who support the agreement said it is a better solution than a long trial that might not yield better results.
In August, Johnson & Johnson became the first pharmaceutical company to lose a lawsuit concerning the opioid crisis when it was forced to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma. Purdue was also implicated in the same lawsuit, but it settled with Oklahoma to pay $270 million.
In 2007, the company and three executives were forced to shell out $635 million after pleading guilty to lying to doctors and the public about OxyContin’s safety.
Response From States
While the settlement would push a large sum across the country, more than half of the states’ attorneys general criticized the tentative settlement, arguing the amount to be paid does not offset the amount governments have spent and will need to spend to fight the opioid crisis.
It comes in spite of the executive committee of lawyers representing all of the cases recommended states accept the deal.
Because of their response, that has led some commentators to question whether or not a bankruptcy judge will accept the proposal. Now, some of those state attorneys general — including those for Virginia, North Carolina, and Delaware — said they will go after the Sacklers directly.
“These people are among the most responsible for the trail of death and destruction the opioid epidemic has left in its wake,” North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said of the Sackler family.
Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have suggested taking criminal action against either the company or potentially the Sacklers through proposed legislation.
“If no Sacklers end up behind bars, an entire class of people will continue to feel that writing a check is the worst thing that will happen to them ever no [matter] what they do,” Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford, said.
In a statement, the family said it “supports working toward a global resolution that directs resources to the patients, families and communities across the country who are suffering and need assistance. This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation.”
Other attorneys representing various states called the agreement a win and “historic.”
“Sadly, this agreement cannot bring back those who have lost their lives to opioid abuse,” Ashley Moody, the state attorney general for Florida, said, “but it will help Florida gain access to more life-saving resources and bolster our efforts to end this deadly epidemic.”
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (Washington Post)
Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan
The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”
Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify
A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts.
Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”
“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”
Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation
Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote.
“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”
“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”
Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)
Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.
In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.
New Cases Flattening
After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.
Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days.
New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.
Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.
Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.
According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.
In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.
Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit.
While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)
COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open
While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.
Schools Respond to Omicron Surge
U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.
According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.
That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.
Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.
In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.
Teachers Protest In-Person Learning
Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.
One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).
Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.
On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.
Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”
Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.
On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.