U.S. Supreme Court ruling upends $183M opioid settlement payment for WA

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday derailed a $183 million payment to Washington that was part of a broader bankruptcy plan for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.

The deal involved the Sackler family, which owned and controlled the company, paying up to $6 billion to help states, cities, and tribes address the harms of the opioid addiction epidemic. But the court ruled 5-4 that a key element, shielding the family from related opioid lawsuits, was not allowed.

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruling today invalidated the bankruptcy plan,” Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office said in an email. “This means that our $183 million settlement is invalidated too. No money was paid to Washington while this appeal was pending.”

The state’s case against the company will now head to mediation, Aho said.

Ferguson applauded the ruling.

“The Supreme Court was right to remove the shield blocking my office from holding the Sackler family directly responsible for their role fueling the opioid epidemic,” he said in a statement.

“My legal team is preparing a lawsuit against the Sackler family if the upcoming mediation does not lead to significant resources for Washington,” he added.

Apart from the Purdue case, litigation brought by the state attorney general’s office has yielded $1.1 billion for Washington from companies involved in the opioid industry.

Purdue began selling OxyContin in the mid-1990s. The drug and the company are blamed for playing an early role in igniting the opioid crisis.

A Purdue affiliate pleaded guilty in 2007 to a federal felony for misbranding the drug as less addictive and less subject to abuse than other painkiller medications, leading to a flood of civil lawsuits.

Washington was among 48 states that sued the company. And Ferguson was among nine attorneys general who challenged a 2021 bankruptcy plan for Purdue where the Sacklers would’ve paid only $4.3 billion.

As lawsuits loomed and piled up between 2008 and 2016, the family siphoned away about $11 billion — roughly 75% — of Purdue’s total assets.

— By Bill Lucia, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and X.

  1. Bob Ferguson needs to be accountable for every penny given to this state! Every penny needs to go directly to helping people with OPIOID addictions! Not spread out and thrown at programs that aren’t working!

  2. In the short run, this is disappointing news (I read it a week ago elsewhere), but in the long game, it appears that states will still be recipients and the Sacklers themselves will not be able to hide or shield their huge assets. Keep the faith. The reasoning for why the bankruptcy was not approved is to prevent Sacklers from protecting themselves, in simple terms, as I understand it.

    1. This was just a political stunt. No doubt the Sackler’s will fight will keep this in courts for years to come. I am sorry but I doubt the individual cities mentioned for payment will ever see a dime. I am so happy though to see our citizens paying attention and sort of waking up. The Sackler family with its offshore accounts after all is said and done will still have 11 BILLION dollars. That family did horrid things. I am not defending them, but I do wonder how much Ferguson knew before saying we were all gonna get all of this money over a what 13 year? period?? with cola over 13 years that would have amounted to little anyway. Now that’s opiates. RX opiates right? How about all of the other drugs that are not RX at all? How about that? How about the addicted to our drugs de jour that need help real help quickly or more will die and more and more families will suffer.? How about that? How about placing the blame to those responsible for keeping some laws and hey how about those who let our MENTAL HEALTH facility totally go to hell? How about that? Shelters? Lots of lip service with very little results. These outreach workers (psychologist?) could work in facilities so they can keep their jobs?

      1. Deborah, all due respect, a political stunt by who, what or whom? 48 states sued Purdue. Are you saying that all 48 attorneys’ general pulled a political stunt? I am disappointed that the money won is now held up, but the long game is in play. Sacklers cannot be allowed to keep on shielding themselves while holding on to their money. It’s unfortunate that this is now held up. This is a complex case involving, as we know, 48 states. AG Ferguson is readying a lawsuit against the Sacklers if mediation fails. Perhaps a letter on your part to AG Ferguson would get you answers to questions you are asking, such as how much did he know beforehand? I don’t see anything nefarious here other than the Sacklers and their attempt to “go bankrupt” which is an egregious middle finger to all the ruined lives as a result of their greed IMO.

  3. A licensed physician can administer the drug as a shot, patch, or lozenge. However, addiction and overdose are most commonly associated with illegally made fentanyl. Clandestine labs outside of the country manufacture fentanyl powder that is illegally trafficked and distributed in the U.S.
    I am well aware of the lawsuits all over the country years ago. I have seen the movie long ago and read all about it. I think the timing for one thing with our AG is convenient for him or any politician to make themselves look like a hero. We see it all the time Pam with both parties BTW. Their are many people who hide there money in off shore accounts and seldom is anything done about that. I think the Sacklers did a horrid thing and I think any RX manufacturers that do it knowing the outcome should be also prosecuted. I’ll be frank with you. I do not trust or like Bob Ferguson. I do agree with what you say about the Sackler’s and their attempt to go bankrupt but horrible people that could care less about the welfare of anyone besides themselves are everywhere these days. They like so many will just spend their 11 billion dollars and never give all of this another thought. Sociopaths. Maybe. WE have Fent issues here Illegal not RX.

  4. cont. My problem with our current government. I have watched for 50 years from the Midwest to out here for 38 years drugs the increase in harmful drug use (Granite Falls Crack) and most recently in the past 6 years our laws becoming more and more lenient, and the result is pretty clear. I do not want to put people in prisons. I want to spend most of our state money to build facilities outside of our cities where we can try to actually help people. I am saddened by all of the deaths on our streets and our disregard for open public drug use. The unsafe and unsanitary conditions that many are in because they don’t want TX is killing them and others. It is harming children. It is chaos. I have a lot of sympathy, but I know we need to change something up and right now. Fine Ferguson can sue whoever he wants but I would like to see some commonsense legislation and once that shows success move on to all of the other things our current government wants to try. It’s that simple. I don’t see Ferguson mention anything about that sort of thing. Just about his lawsuits. And his donations? HD for instance that was a drop in the bucket. They were out of compliance but paid very little.

  5. The results of this campaign against the pain killer companies has twice as many people dying from unregulated illegal fentanyl. I can see there was a problem mostly with doctors over prescribing the pain meds that could have been fixed but instead government got a payday and hundreds of thousands got dead. Really I don’t think the government could have screwed this up any worse.

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