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States split by party on accepting Purdue Pharma settlement

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The opioid crisis has hit virtually every pocket of the U.S., from rural towns in deeply conservative states to big cities in liberal-leaning ones. But a curious divide has opened up.

The nation’s Republican state attorneys general have, for the most part, lined up in support of a tentative multibillion-dollar settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, while their Democratic counterparts have mostly come out against it, decrying it as woefully inadequate.

The Republican-led attorney general offices in Idaho and New Hampshire have publicly rejected the settlement. Several GOP-led states have not said where they stand, but people with knowledge of the negotiations say they are accepting the settlement.

Some of the attention has focused on the role played by Luther Strange, a Republican former Alabama attorney general who has been working for members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma.

People familiar with the negotiations say he was at a meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association over the summer, sounding out members about a settlement months before a tentative deal was struck this week.

Purdue has been generous in recent years to RAGA, contributing more than $680,000 to its campaign operation from 2014 through 2018. The company also gave to the organization’s Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, over the same five-year period, but far less: about $210,000.

Strange would not comment Friday.

The proposed settlement with the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker could ultimately be worth up to $12 billion, though critics doubt it will be close to that much.

Nearly half the states and lawyers representing some 2,000 local governments have tentatively accepted the settlement deal, according to people familiar with the talks. Under the deal, the company would declare bankruptcy and remake itself as “public benefit trust,” with its profits going toward the settlement. An Associated Press survey of attorney general offices shows 25 states and the District of Columbia have rejected the current offer.

Purdue is perhaps the highest-profile opioid maker, but governments are also suing other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies to try to hold them accountable for a crisis that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the U.S. since 2000, including deaths linked to illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

The only states with Democratic attorneys general to sign on are Mississippi and Michigan, which is one of the few states that haven’t actually sued Purdue.

The GOP attorneys general have generally contended that getting a settlement now is better than uncertainty and years of litigation, while the Democrats have mostly argued that the deal does not provide enough money and does not hold adequately accountable members of the Sackler family.

The states that have refused to sign on are expected to object in bankruptcy court and to seek to continue lawsuits in state courts against Sackler family members, who have denied wrongdoing.

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