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Wisconsin not part of tentative Purdue Pharma opioid deal; attorney general pledges to pursue case

Wisconsin not part of tentative Purdue Pharma opioid deal; attorney general pledges to pursue case

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Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul speaks Jan. 7 during his address at the inauguration of Gov. Tony Evers, right, at the state Capitol in Madison.

Wisconsin is not among the two dozen states that have reached a tentative settlement agreement against Purdue Pharma, a chief producer of opioids, the state Department of Justice said Wednesday. 

Half the states, including Wisconsin, haven't signed onto the settlement, but Attorney General Josh Kaul affirmed the agency's commitment "to getting justice" from the company and is looking to pursue a separate deal in the case.

“The Sackler family has made billions of dollars from the sale of opioids," the first-term Democrat said in a statement. "Wisconsin has alleged that two Purdue Pharma entities and Richard Sackler contributed to the opioid epidemic through unlawful conduct. We’re committed to getting justice and, in my view, Purdue’s current position doesn’t achieve that.”

National media outlets reported Wednesday that Purdue Pharma reached a tentative settlement with 22 state attorneys general and hundreds of cities and counties that filed suits against the company.

The deal, reported to be worth up to $12 billion, means the company would declare bankruptcy and be reorganized as a trust while the controlling family, the Sacklers, would relinquish control of Purdue Pharma.  

Wisconsin in May filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court against two entities of Purdue Pharma and Richard Sackler, the company's former president and chairman. The filing came amidst a flurry of state and federal litigation that have been filed against Sackler and Purdue Pharma business entities over the last several years.

It was also the second time Wisconsin sued the company. In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to federal felony for misleading marketing and agreed to a settlement to stop such practices. Wisconsin's latest suit alleges that after the settlement, Purdue continued those practices and downplayed the risk of addiction to opioids and their overall efficacy relative to other pain relievers.

A DOJ spokeswoman said she "can't speculate on what the next steps" will be for the state in this case, but said the agency would work with the state's budget committee, as required under state law passed during last December's lame-duck legislative session.

Last winter's extraordinary session actions curbed the power of the AG before he took office and required him to seek permission from the panel before settling a case, among other measures. But that issue is at a stand-still, as members of the Joint Finance Committee are waiting to be briefed on ongoing cases and Kaul is insisting nondisclosure agreements first need to be signed to do so.

The Purdue Pharma case was the one that sparked the first meeting between the agency and the Joint Finance Committee, a DOJ spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. She said the agency was unwilling to comment on it at the time due to the ongoing, confidential nature of the settlement discussions, but added she could confirm it now because more details have been made public in national media outlets.

The committee last month retained legal counsel to represent itself and sign a confidentiality agreement that GOP leaders said should assuage Kaul's concerns. The committee last week scheduled a meeting with Kaul to discuss settling seven lawsuits, but it was ultimately cancelled

"Through media reports, the attorney general stated Wisconsin is not one of the states agreeing to settle the Purdue Pharma case at this time.

The committee's co-chairs, Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, said in a joint statement they hope reporters have signed confidentiality agreements since the AG is sharing information with them "that he refused to share with members of the Joint Committee on Finance."

"It's clear the attorney general did not need signed secrecy agreements to share case information," they continued. "Now we know there wasn't an 'emergency' settlement to present to the committee two weeks ago. The attorney general should stop playing games, follow the law, and work with the Joint Committee on Finance."

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Briana Reilly covers state government and politics for the Cap Times. She joined the staff in 2019, after working at Follow her on Twitter at @briana_reilly.

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