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CT opposition to $4.3B opioid deal vindicated in $6B settlement with Sacklers

Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public Radio
Paige Niver of Manchester (right) hugs Liz Fitzgerald of Southington in the Connecticut attorney general's office in Hartford on Thurs., March 3, 2022. Both women have children affected by opioid addiction. Niver's daughter is in recovery, and Fitzgerald lost two sons to overdose deaths.

A gamble by Connecticut, seven other states and the District of Columbia to oppose a $4.3 billion deal offered by the Sackler family over its central role in the opioid epidemic paid off Thursday with a settlement worth $6 billion.

The new settlement, which now goes before a bankruptcy judge in White Plains, N.Y., would end a long court battle by states and victims against the family that owned Stamford-based Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin.

Attorney General William Tong, who represented Stamford in the General Assembly before his election as attorney general in 2018, said the company’s local roots imposed “a special obligation to be aggressive.”

“Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family played a singular role in starting and fueling the opioid and addiction crisis,” Tong said. “They did it from our state. They did it from my home city of Stamford.”

Aside from the monetary differences, two of the additional elements are emotional for both the Sacklers and the families who lost members to addiction blamed on Oxycontin, which the Sacklers marketed as a miracle, largely risk-free painkiller.

The settlement requires the Sacklers, whose family name graces art galleries ranging from the Smithsonian to the Louvre, to allow those institutions to strike their name regardless of the conditions attached to financial support.

“That was really important to them,” Tong said of the Sacklers and their desire to retain their presence in the worlds of art and philanthropy.

The Sacklers also must apologize and submit themselves to a hearing where families can address them, a condition Connecticut had urged on the mediator, Judge Shelley C. Chapman.

This also was a condition the Sacklers refused last year, when the initial $4.3 million settlement was reached. That settlement was later set aside by an appeals court.

“Victims and survivors should have the opportunity to tell the Sacklers how much damage they have caused,” Tong said. “And when I said that, six months ago, the Sacklers said, ‘No way. Not a penny more.’ And other states and many other advocates said, ‘That is never going to happen. You are not going to get any more money. This is a total waste of time.’”

Tong outlined the settlement at a news conference attended by Liz Fitzgerald of Southington, who lost two children to opioid addiction, and Paige Niver of Manchester, whose daughter is in recovery after being prescribed increasing doses of Oxycontin after an accident.

Fitzgerald said her son, Kyle, was prescribed Oxycontin “when it was safe.”

Fitzgerald siblings
Liz Fitzgerald
The Fitzgerald brothers (from left) Troy, Matt, Justin and Kyle hold their sister, Meghan Fitzgerald, and pose for a photo. Both Kyle and Matt developed substance use disorders after exposure to opioid pain medication, and both died from overdoses in 2013 and 2017, respectively.

He struggled with addiction for nine years before dying in March 2013. Another son, Matthew, died from an overdose on Labor Day 2017.

“They just destroyed our lives,” she said.

Niver said Oxycontin was prescribed to her daughter after a serious bicycle accident when she was 14.

“As a mother, I did what the doctor told me to do and just kept giving them to her,” Niver said. “And when they were starting to kind of have a lesser effect, they said, ‘Oh, well, then you need to give her more.’ And that’s exactly what I did.”

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