Senator Urged AGs To Accept Settlement While On Sackler Payroll, Source Says

By Kelly Burch 10/22/19

Allegations surrounding Luther Strange's role in the opioid settlements have created a deeper partisan divide.

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Senator Luther Strange taking the oath of office
Senator Luther Strange taking the oath of office

The opioid epidemic has been claiming lives across the country and affecting families no matter their socioeconomic status, race or political affiliation. And yet, a partisan divide has emerged in regards to the settlement with Purdue Pharma, thanks in part to one prominent Republican who was working with the Sacklers, the family that owns Purdue. 

Conflict Of Interest

NPR reported that Luther Strange, former Alabama attorney general and senator for that state, was working as a lawyer for the Sacklers at the same time that he was urging other Republican attorneys general to accept the proposed settlement deal. 

At a meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which took place over the summer in West Virginia, Strange allegedly urged attorneys general to accept the settlement with Purdue, while he was on the Sackler's payroll. 

Publicly, Strange has spoken out against the hiring of private lawyers to help craft the lawsuits against Big Pharma. He’s also said that using public nuisance laws to pursue companies could have wide-ranging impacts. 

"I've written on this recently because it is a blooming problem and issue around the country,” he said in June. 

The State Divide

States are split almost evenly about whether to accept the proposed settlement with Purdue. The settlement would see the Sackler family contribute $3 billion of their personal money, but many attorneys general feel this is not enough, compared with the massive amount of profits that the family pulled from the company. 

NPR found that opinions on the plan are split largely along part lines. Only two Democratic attorneys general are in favor of the settlement, with 20 opposing it. On the other hand, most Republicans are in favor of the settlement, with some exceptions.

Richard Ausness studies opioid litigation at the University of Kentucky and says that the partisan divide can be explained by underlying differences about the purpose of the settlement. 

He said, "Some of the Democratic politicians, more so than the Republicans, are on a crusade. This is a moral issue for them, not just simply a matter of economics. They want to punish the drug companies for what they did, and not simply make a deal with them.”

Ausness pointed out that Republicans are less likely to want to sue companies, and that they have traditionally been more closely aligned with Big Pharma. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, a Republican, was widely praised for securing a $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma and a ruling in favor of the state against Johnson & Johnson. While Hunter has secured millions in funding for his state, he was criticized by his party and was nearly defeated in a recent primary. 

Over the summer, Hunter said, “It’s been tough. The extent to which this lawsuit was part of the discussion during the election was certainly regrettable. That was something that certainly gave me pause."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.