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Crime and Courts

Why it might not matter if Colorado’s attorney general doesn’t think the national opioid settlement is sufficient

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser says a bankruptcy court could “cram” a Purdue settlement onto the state. He also says he is examining potential legal action against other opioid companies.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, speaks at a news conference in March 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado may have a settlement with OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma “crammed” upon it, even if the state doesn’t think a national agreement between local governments and the pharmaceutical giant goes far enough to address the opioid crisis.

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That’s because if enough of the government entities suing Purdue agree to the terms of the settlement, said to be up to $12 billion, a bankruptcy court could force Colorado to be a part of the accord. 

“There is this risk of enough states coming on board and the settlement gets crammed down,” Weiser said. 

Weiser has said he doesn’t think the terms reached with Purdue are adequate. News of the deal broke on Wednesday

“There’s a large number of states that have the concern that I do that this is not a sufficient amount and doesn’t do justice to what I believe the harm requires us to obtain,” he said in an interview with The Colorado Sun. 

Weiser has taken an aggressive stance on the opioid crisis, evidenced by his refusal to accept the Purdue settlement as-is. His resolve could grow even fiercer as he looks to target other opioid companies with litigation over their alleged role in fueling Colorado’s scourge of addiction and overdoses. 

In this April 2, 2018 photo, pharmacist Steve Protzel poses for photos holding a bottle of OxyContin at Daniel’s Pharmacy in San Francisco. (Jeff Chiu, AP file photo)

On Thursday Weiser joined 26 other state attorneys general in blasting the tentative settlement, calling for conversations with Purdue about compensation to continue.

Ideally, Weiser says, Purdue will come back to the bargaining table and negotiate a settlement that more appropriately speaks to the company’s impact in Colorado. The state sued Purdue Pharma alleging that its sales tactics helped drive the overdose epidemic in the state.

MORE: The inside story of how one opioid company spread millions of pain pills around Colorado, according to a newly unsealed court document

Weiser declined to say exactly what he’s hoping for from Purdue. “It’s a negotiation,” he said. “I’m not going to do that publicly.” 

The state says that between 2000 and 2016, nearly 5,000 Coloradans died because of opioid abuse. In 2018, the deaths of 543 people in Colorado were linked to opioids. 

 Even if Colorado is roped into the settlement as-is, a third scenario could play out in which a bankruptcy court could rule that the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, and company executives can still be sued. 

Colorado has also targeted that group in its legal action, and the result of the lawsuit could supplement any settlement money. 

“I believe the money is there,” Weiser said. “The Sacklers have taken a lot of money out of Purdue Pharma over the years. The question is: Will it be part of the settlement?”

Weiser also is leaving open the door for lawsuits against other opioid companies.

“Regardless of Purdue and the Sacklers,” Weiser said, “it is quite clear that there are other entities who have engaged in wrongful conduct.”

He declined to say who those companies might be, but that any legal action against them would likely also be filed in state court — similar to Colorado’s Purdue case. 

“I’ve been looking at this issue,” he said. “I’ve been aware of the need to look at other actors. But there’s no specific timing on this.”


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