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Tentative opioid deal won’t end court battles for Purdue Pharma

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Courtroom showdowns still face OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and the family that owns it, the Sacklers.

But after a tentative settlement reached Wednesday with thousands of local governments and more than 20 states, the fight will be less about the damage done by the company and more over how to divide its assets.

The agreement could be worth up to $12 billion over time. That amount includes future profits for the company, the value of overdose antidotes it’s developing and cash payments of $3 billion to $4.5 billion from the Sacklers. The amount is contingent on the sale of the family’s international drug company, Mundipharma, which, like Purdue, has been criticized for overselling the benefits of its powerful prescription opioid painkillers and understating the risks.

Critics are fuming that the deal won’t be worth close to the stated $12 billion, that it won’t force internal company documents to be made public and that it doesn’t do enough to hold the company or its owners responsible. “The idea that Purdue might get away without having to admit any wrongdoing flies in the face of every definition of justice and accountability known to the human race. It’s unconscionable,” said Ryan Hampton, a Los Angeles-based advocate for people in recovery from opioid addiction.

For the Stamford, Ohio-based company, one of the next steps is a bankruptcy filing, which would likely end lawsuits filed against the company by some 2,000 counties, municipalities, Native American tribes, unions and hospitals, along with nearly every state.

Parities that don’t sign on to the settlement could raise objections in bankruptcy court — and some states have made it clear that that’s their plan.

“Far too many lives have been lost or devastated in Rhode Island as a result of the opioid crisis,” Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said in a statement Wednesday. “Before we could responsibly reach any agreement, we would need much more information about the financial holdings of Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers to be confident that this resolution adequately compensates Rhode Island and, equally as important, holds the company and its owners accountable for the enormous destruction they have caused. We are committed to continuing to aggressively pursue our claims against Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers.”

The state was already suing some members of the Sackler family, which was listed by Forbes magazine in 2016 as one of the 20 richest in the country. On Wednesday, it added more family members to the suit. More than 20 other states also have legal claims against family members, and many plan to keep pursuing them.

On the other side, several attorneys general said the agreement was a better way to ensure compensation from Purdue and the Sacklers than taking their chances if Purdue files for bankruptcy on its own.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the deal “was the quickest and surest way to get immediate relief for Arizona and for the communities that have been harmed by the opioid crisis and the actions of the Sackler family.”

But even advocates of the deal cautioned that it’s not yet complete.

“There’s still a lot of telephone calls going on. I think we see the outlines of a thing that might be, but it’s not yet,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in an interview.

Opioid addiction has contributed to the deaths of some 400,000 Americans over the past two decades, hitting many rural communities particularly hard.

The tentative agreement and expected bankruptcy filing would remove Purdue from the first federal trial over the opioids epidemic, scheduled to begin next month in Cleveland.

In a statement after Wednesday’s announcement, the company said that it “continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis.”

Members of the Sackler family said in a statement that there are good reasons for governments to join the settlement: “This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis, and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation.”

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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