Opioid victims to receive small payments from Purdue Pharma settlement: NPR


Lynn Wencus sits on a bench in her garden dedicated to her son Jeff, whom she lost from an opioid overdose in 2017. She is one of many people who are filing an individual claim in the Purdue Pharma settlement.

Jesse Costa / WBUR


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Jesse Costa / WBUR


Lynn Wencus sits on a bench in her garden dedicated to her son Jeff, whom she lost from an opioid overdose in 2017. She is one of many people who are filing an individual claim in the Purdue Pharma settlement.

Jesse Costa / WBUR

The multibillion-dollar bankruptcy settlement with Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family is based on an opioid crisis that has injured or killed countless Americans.

But many of the 138,000 people who have filed claims for death, expenses related to their addiction or the birth of a child exposed to opioids during pregnancy expect to receive little or nothing from the deal.

For her claim, Lynn Wencus of Wretham, Mass., Gathered a long and painful string of receipts for prescriptions, urine tests, doctor’s visits, drug rehab and rehab stays. Now this paper trail will be converted to points on a graph created during Purdue Pharma settlement. The points will determine how much his son Jeff’s life was worth. He died of an opioid overdose in 2017.

“There is no amount of money that would ease the pain or suffering that he went through, that my family endured,” said Lynn Wencus. “But the graphic – it’s a spit in the face.”

The maximum compensation for Jeff Wencus’ death would be between $ 26,000 and $ 40,000. It can be 20% higher or lower, depending on the final resolution of the settlement. None of the amounts touch the more than $ 125,000 the Wencus family spent on Jeff’s care. And they won’t get what’s left until after the legal and administrative fees and outstanding medical claims are paid – so maybe nothing.

“I knew some time ago that the individual plaintiffs were being pushed aside in this bankruptcy case,” Wencus said.

A focus on prevention rather than the past

More than 90% of the settlement, which could bring in $ 10 billion over time, will go to states, local governments and tribes. They are supposed to use it to fight the opioid crisis. Alexandra Lahav, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, says the ratio prioritizes the greater good, in the future.

“To me, it shows the focus on how we fix what’s broken for the future,” Lahav says, “versus people who have been hurt in the past”.

Lahav says she sympathizes with those who call the settlement unfair. This maximum payment for one death, in the order of $ 40,000, is a fraction of what other drugmakers have paid to settle lawsuits, according to lawyers reviewing these cases.

But this settlement is different because it was negotiated in bankruptcy court and there was a fixed pot of money. Lawyers representing individuals and all states disagreed on how to divide it. Some lawyers who have followed the proceedings claim that states had the advantage of power and won.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, one of the last prosecutors to sign the deal, said spending most of the money on prevention, treatment and recovery means it will reach people who haven’t been able to or have not sued Purdue.

“So all of these families – and these are the vast, vast majority of families and people affected by the crisis – they are going to be helped because of what we have been able to do,” Healey said.

Sean Higgins, an attorney representing individuals, wrote in an emailed statement that using money that does not go directly to victims to slow the opioid epidemic “is in line with victims’ goal of ‘prevent others from suffering the same fate.

One vote, but no real choice

This is why Wencus voted to approve the deal which it calls an insult. Ryan Hampton, who is recovering from an opioid addiction, says “yes” was his only choice.

“Without it, the victims would not have received anything,” says Hampton, who co-chaired a committee that helped negotiate the settlement. “It was like we were being held hostage.”

Hampton resigned just before the deal was approved and wrote a memoir on the bankruptcy proceedings. He only expects to be eligible for the minimum payment, $ 3,500. His treatment bills were close to $ 500,000, but Hampton says receipts that would prove a connection to his Purdue pain relievers are long gone.

“Many families across the country who have lost loved ones are likely to qualify for this minimum payment because they are having exactly the same issues locating these records,” said Hampton.

If the Purdue Sackler settlement survives the appeals, individuals could see the first small checks at the end of next year.


Protesters scattered counterfeit money and vials of OxyContin outside U.S. bankruptcy court in response to the overdose crisis.

Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images


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Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images


Protesters scattered counterfeit money and vials of OxyContin outside U.S. bankruptcy court in response to the overdose crisis.

Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images

Hampton and Wencus say a lot of what bothers them about the settlement appears to be rooted in discrimination.

“There is still so much stigma associated with substance use disorders,” says Wencus, “and there are still many, many people who believe it’s not a disease, it’s a choice. . “

It is a perception that money invested in treatment and prevention could help correct.

Kathy Strain has struggled with this perception for decades. She will file a claim for a grandchild exposed to opioids in the womb. Often, guardians do not know the extent of hearing, vision or learning deficits that these children may be experiencing. Strain says she has already spent significantly more than the maximum $ 7,000 to $ 10,000 scholarship she could receive for neonatal abstinence syndrome. But Strain says she’s done with the legal battle.

“It’s time to end it and be done, to inject this money into our communities,” says Strain, who works in drug prevention programs. “We need the resources today, not five years from now.”

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