Victims of opioid addiction weren’t in the room when OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma persuaded half the state attorneys general to settle claims over the company’s role in the nationwide overdose epidemic.

that Purdue is in federal bankruptcy court, four people whose lives
were touched by addiction have important seats at the table — and could
force fundamental changes to the tentative deal. They are part of a
bankruptcy committee that will play a major role in deciding how much
Purdue will pay and potentially how that money is to be spent.

committee can investigate Purdue’s operations and possibly even go
after more money from the members of the Sackler family who own the
company. They will play a central role in evaluating the tentative
settlement reached by the attorneys general representing roughly half
the states.

The four are a mother and a grandfather of children
born dependent on opioids, a man in recovery from addiction and a mother
who lost a son to overdose. Together, they could be an emotionally
persuasive minority on the nine-member Official Committee of Unsecured
Creditors appointed by the U.S. trustee overseeing the bankruptcy.

“There’s not a shy person in the bunch,” said addiction treatment advocate and lobbyist Carol McDaid, who attended the hearing when the committee candidates were interviewed and chosen. The four victims know how to make their voices heard, she said.

It’s unusual for a creditors committee to include private citizens. The other members are more typical: a medical center, a health insurer, a prescription benefit management company, the manufacturer of an addiction treatment drug and a pension insurer.

The committee can hire lawyers and financial
experts paid for by the debtor — in this case, Purdue, said Robert
Dammon, dean of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon
University. It can investigate issues such as the company’s value and
even whether the Sackler family has improperly taken money out of it —
something some state attorneys general are investigating.

including prescription drugs and illegal ones such as heroin and
illicitly made fentanyl, have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in
the U.S. since 2000. Thousands of infants have been born to mothers who
were taking opioids while pregnant, and two committee members represent
those children.

Kara Trainor is a mother of a child born
dependent on opioids. Walter Lee Salmons, a grandfather, is helping
raise two affected children. Ryan Hampton is an activist in recovery
from opioid addiction. Cheryl Juaire lost her 23-year-old son to a
heroin overdose after he became addicted to prescription painkillers.

They have been asked not to publicly discuss the bankruptcy case.

of the victims are veteran protesters who will need to channel the
emotion of their personal stories in a different way. Juaire, whose son
overdosed in 2011, regularly tells reporters she’d like to see the
Sackler family in jail.

Now they’ll need to be practical, said
Gary Mendell of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit working on addiction
issues. Mendell, an entrepreneur who lost his son to addiction, has used
his personal story to influence policies at the state and national

“It is connecting with people emotionally about a family
that’s been shattered — and once you’ve connected emotionally, crafting
practical approaches to sparing other families that same tragedy,”
Mendell said.

McDaid said victims usually get “a token seat” at the table.

they pat you on the head and give you an award later,” she said. “This
could be very meaningful. There could be some justice.”

said “it will be a win” if the bankruptcy leads to investments in
addiction treatment infrastructure and support for people in recovery
such as housing and education “so people can get and stay well.”

is facing some 2,600 lawsuits over the toll of opioids, most of them
filed by local governments. The company has accounted for a relatively
small percentage of overall opioid sales, but its drug OxyContin is
perhaps the best known prescription opioid. Several other drugmakers,
distributors and pharmacies are facing most of the same lawsuits.

It’s not exactly clear how much clout the committee could have in such an unusual bankruptcy case.

can bring to court problems with what the debtor is trying to do,” said
Lindsey Simon, a University of Georgia School of Law bankruptcy expert.
“They have leverage.”

But she noted a judge does not have to do
what the committee wants. Even though the thousands of state and local
governments suing Purdue are not seated on this committee, they can give
input into how the case should go.

The committee has been meeting
virtually every business day by phone since it was formed toward the
end of last month, according to a court filing made Saturday by the
committee’s attorneys. It is expected to look out for the interests of
all parties to whom Purdue owes money; so far, most of the attention in
the case has been on the Purdue settlement talks with state and local

“The public litigants have dominated the press for
the past year or so … and there has been less press regarding the
private litigants — and perhaps an inclination to discount the size and
importance of those claims. Doing so, however, would be unfair, and
contrary to the facts,” the committee’s attorneys wrote. “Collectively,
the amount of the private litigants’ claims is vast — just like the
public litigants.”

One of the committee members, for example, is
Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, which represents a network of
Blue Cross Blue Shield companies that provide health care coverage to
one-third of all Americans, according to the court filing. It has a
claim against Purdue ranging from nearly $69 billion to $78.6 billion
for what it says are excess payments for prescription medications used
by members of its health plans and for having to cover the costs for
illnesses, injuries and addiction that “would not have been incurred but
for the actions of the Debtors.”

Purdue’s settlement plan could
be worth up to $12 billion over time. It calls for the company to be
converted into a public benefit trust where profits would help pay for
the settlement. Also included is the value of overdose antidotes and a
treatment drug in development. As part of the deal, members of the
Sackler family would pay $3 billion to $4.5 billion, depending how much
they get from selling their international drug companies.

state attorneys general and key lawyers representing other plaintiffs
suing Purdue and other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies, have
signed on. But another two dozen state attorneys general and hundreds of
local governments have not and are pushing to be allowed to continue
their lawsuits against the Sackler family. In court filings, they say
the deal does not contain an admission of wrongdoing and doesn’t force
the Purdue owners to repay money “they pocketed from their illegal

Even if those suits can’t continue, the committee could work on the same issues as part of the bankruptcy process.

Lee Taylor of the Center on Addiction, a national nonprofit in New York
that is focused on prevention and treatment, said it’s crucial to
listen to families and people in recovery: “They’re the experts.”

The center’s recommendations
for spending opioid settlement money are based on listening to people
talk about an insurance system that’s difficult to navigate, doctors
uneducated about treating addiction and other barriers.

“So many
pieces of the system are broken,” Taylor said. “By hearing stories, it
really highlights the broken joints in the system so we can fix it going

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