Tong denies ignoring opioid victims’ families
A prominent activist and writer has accused Connecticut’s attorney general of undermining personalinjury claimants in OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy through his opposition to the company’s settlement plan — but William Tong maintains that he is looking out for opioid victims and their families.
Ryan Hampton, who formerly served as a chairman of a key committee in the bankruptcy, explained in a series of tweets posted Monday his displeasure with Tong’s position. He said he is concerned that the appeals of Stamford-based Purdue’s settlement plan filed by Connecticut and a handful of other states could jeopardize personalinjury payments. He also criticized how those states have dealt with the Sackler family members who own the company.
Tong’s objections to Purdue’s settlement framework are facing greater scrutiny after a federal judge last month rejected Purdue’s settlement plan. The decision was welcomed by the appealing states, but the ruling has potential repercussions that worry Hampton and a number of others involved in the case.
“@AGWilliamTong says he’s fighting for the victims of the #overdose crisis,” Hampton said in one of his tweets Monday to the approximately 80,000 followers of his @RyanforRecovery account. “So why is he ignoring some CT parents who’ve lost children to overdose, who are asking for a brief mtg with him in hopes of protecting THEIR hard-fought piece of the #PurduePharma settlement?”
In an email Tuesday to Hearst Connecticut Media, Tong defended his position.
“Since I have become attorney general, I have met with families across Connecticut who have lost children, spouses and parents to the opioid epidemic, as well as those who will spend their lifetimes battling this addiction,” Tong said in the email.
“They are the reason I do this work. I am always willing to speak with families, regardless of whether they agree with my position.”
Concerns about payments to opioid victims
District Judge Colleen McMahon’s decision on Dec. 16 to vacate bankruptcy judge Robert Drain’s approval of Purdue’s settlement plan dealt a significant blow to the company’s hopes of implementing its proposal. The company has said it plans to appeal McMahon’s ruling.
Purdue values its settlement offer at more than $10 billion — a plan that would resolve several thousand lawsuits, alleging the company fueled the national opioid crisis with deceptive OxyContin marketing. The total includes approximately $700 million to $750 million for personal-injury claimants such as family members of deceased opioid victims and people who have survived opioid addiction. Recipients would receive payments between $3,500 and $48,000, according to Purdue’s terms.
“All I’m asking from them (the appealing attorneys general) is a very clear commitment that they’re going to protect direct victims’ compensation at the $750 million level — and nothing less,” Hampton, 41, who formerly served as co-chairman of the Official Unsecured Creditors Committee, said in an interview.
A Las Vegas resident, Hampton is in recovery from a decade-long addiction to opioids that he said was kick-started when he was prescribed OxyContin. Last year, he published his latest book, “Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis.”
In his email, Tong did not comment on the personalinjury payouts.
“My job is to pursue justice, not just to recover money,” Tong said. “But whatever money we do recover, whether it is through Purdue or the $26 billion distributor settlement (announced last summer), I’m working as hard as I can to make sure that goes to save lives, to fund treatment and prevention and to abate this epidemic.”
About 135,000 personalinjury claims have been filed against Purdue, according to bankruptcy records. The claimants include Norwalk resident Dede Yoder, whose 21-year-old son died from an overdose of fentanyl and carfentanil in 2017. Yoder said he had been prescribed OxyContin for sports injuries when he was a teenager, prescriptions that she believes led to his later addiction to heroin.
She is dissatisfied with Purdue’s proposed payments to personal-injury claimants, but she is also concerned that the appeals might lead to a significant delay or reduction in those payouts.
Yoder said she contacted Tong’s office last week to request a meeting with Tong. She said she heard back from his office on Tuesday to schedule a meeting with Tong in Hartford at the end of the month.
“He’s gotten one point of view from one group of mothers who agree with him,” Yoder said in an interview. “I would like him to hear from another group of mothers who don’t agree.”
Despite their opposition, Tong and the other objecting attorneys general — who represent California, Delaware, Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, as well as the District of Columbia — have not ruled out a deal with Purdue. On Jan. 3, Drain ordered “mediation” talks, as he directed the company, the Sacklers and the opposing states to find out whether they could reach an agreement on a settlement by Friday.
“In light of the bankruptcy court’s order establishing a mediation between the last remaining objecting states and the Sacklers, we are hopeful that all parties will seize what could be the final opportunity to preserve the plan and ensure that billions of dollars go to the victims and for opioid abatement,” Purdue said in a statement. “In the absence of a deal, these states and the individual victims could receive nothing. That is why the vast majority of Purdue’s creditors have supported the plan, and only a fraction of a percent still object.”
Purdue officials declined to comment Tuesday on the progress of the mediation, as did Tong. Elizabeth Benton, a spokesperson for Tong, said “the attorney general is actively and personally engaged in this process.”
Pressure on the Sacklers
The appealing states’ objections to Purdue’s settlement plan focus in large part on its requirement for “thirdparty releases” from current and future lawsuits related to Purdue’s opioids for the Sacklers who have been involved in the company.
Those legal shields are a condition of the Sacklers’ proposed contribution of about $4.3 billion in cash to the settlement. The Sacklers have not personally filed for bankruptcy.
“I respect that there are others who think this deal is as good as it’s going to get, but I do not believe this is justice,” Tong said in the email to Hearst Connecticut. “The Sacklers would emerge from this deal far richer than they began — without selling a single yacht, art collection or vacation mansion — or even issuing a single apology for the lives they have destroyed.”
Hampton argued, however, that Connecticut and the other appealing states have not done enough to push for criminal prosecution of the Sacklers — a potential scenario that the third-party releases would not prevent.
As part of a settlement with the Department of Justice, Purdue as a company pleaded guilty in November 2020 to three criminal charges of conspiring to defraud the government and violate anti-kickback law. No individuals, however, were charged in connection with that plea.
Also in 2020, the Sacklers involved with Purdue agreed to a $225 million settlement with the Justice Department to resolve allegations of marketing and financial misconduct at the Stamford company. They did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of that deal.
Tong has criticized the lack of criminal prosecution of individuals involved with Purdue. He has also said he does not have the power to take such action.
Through a spokesperson, the family of late Purdue co-founder Mortimer Sackler declined to comment Tuesday. A message left for a spokesperson for the family of late Purdue cofounder Raymond Sackler was not immediately returned.
The Sacklers have denied the allegations of misconduct leveled against them in lawsuits filed by Connecticut and many other local and state governments.
A spokesperson for the Division of Criminal Justice said in an email Tuesday that the division “does not comment on matters that may or may not be under investigation” and declined to comment further. A message left for the Department of Justice was not immediately returned.
Despite his criticism, Hampton said he did not have any hostility toward Tong, a Democrat who was sworn in as attorney general in January 2019.
“It’s not that I have any bad will toward Tong. I think he’s brave in what he’s doing,” Hampton said. “I’m asking him to consider all the other different pieces to this. That’s been a little bit taller of a task than I would have thought two years ago.”