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How a powerful corporate consulting firm helped create the opioid epidemic

Feb 10, 2021 6:25 PM EST

By —Stephanie Sy
Source: PBS

The opioids crisis that has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives has received less attention in the pandemic, but drug overdoses and deaths have grown during the last year. Now, one of the world’s most powerful corporate consulting firms has agreed to a major settlement for its role in the sale of painkillers. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

WATCH:

  • Judy Woodruff:The opioids crisis that has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives has gotten less attention during the pandemic, but it’s no less dangerous.In fact, the CDC says drug overdoses and deaths have grown substantially since the pandemic began.Now one of the world’s most powerful corporate consulting firms has agreed to a major settlement for its role and trying to — quote — “turbocharge” sales of painkillers.Stephanie Sy has our update.
  • Stephanie Sy:Good evening, Judy.The settlement holds McKinsey & Company financially accountable for its extensive work with Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers to aggressively market highly addictive painkillers. The agreement allocates $573 million to 47 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories to fund opioid treatment, recovery and prevention programs.Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been leading the legal battles against McKinsey and Purdue Pharma, and joins me now.Madam Attorney General, it’s a pleasure having you on the “NewsHour.”I want to dive right in.The velocity, the breadth of the opioid epidemic and how many American lives it has devastated is astounding. How much of that would you ascribe to McKinsey consultants’ strategies to sell more OxyContin?
  • Maura Healey:Well, Stephanie, what my office’s investigation uncovered is that, in fact, McKinsey was right at the heart of things.McKinsey, to be clear, what our investigation uncovered was consulting with the Sacklers and Purdue. They were instructing them on how to boost OxyContin sales, how to get doctors to prescribe more and more to patients.McKinsey consultants actually rode along with, went with Purdue sales reps to doctor’s offices here in Massachusetts to critique them on how effective they were at selling OxyContin. McKinsey advised Purdue how to avoid FDA and pharmacy restrictions.They later advised Purdue on how to enter the market for opioid rescue and treatment medications, because McKinsey knew that people were overdosing and dying and getting sick from OxyContin. So, McKinsey’s fingers are all over this. It’s why we came together as states.This is the first multistate resolution that will return, importantly, millions and millions of dollars to our states right away that we’re going to use directly for treatment.And, also importantly, Stephanie, we did something for the first time, set up an online document repository where, in months’ time, everyone in the country, researchers, the press, the public, will be able to see McKinsey’s e-mails, memos, and the individuals who were involved in this effort.
  • Stephanie Sy:One of the more egregious tactics that the complaint alleges was proposed by McKinsey consultants was giving the idea to give rebates to pharmacies when their customers overdosed on OxyContin.Now, there’s no evidence that that was actually enacted, but, Madam Attorney General, what does that tell you about these entities’ desire for profit at all costs?
  • Maura Healey:It’s exactly that, profit at all costs.McKinsey consultants were about the business of advising their clients on how to make as much money as possible from this deadly epidemic. It shows a callousness that really is beyond the pale. And it’s why McKinsey needs to be held accountable.The fact that they knew — I mean, they knew how dangerous these opioids were, that they went so far as to try to propose to Purdue how it could pay insurance companies rebates for every patient who O.D.ed on OxyContin is gross. It’s disturbing. And, today, there is a reckoning and an accountability that our families, Stephanie, in Massachusetts and all across this country deserve.Those who engaged in acts and perpetrated such wrong against so many families need to be held accountable. And McKinsey was right there part of it.
  • Stephanie Sy:And we should say that McKinsey issued a rare apology, saying: “We recognize that we did not adequately acknowledge the epidemic unfolding in our communities. We want to be part of the solution.”However, they never explicitly acknowledged any wrongdoing or illegality.So, I want to ask you, are you planning any further complaints, criminal complaints, against McKinsey individuals?
  • Maura Healey:Well, Stephanie, our agreement does not release any criminal claims. And I cannot speak to the status of any criminal investigations.What I will say, though, is that this agreement — remember, we filed a complaint in every state in this country. We filed a consent judgment in the states. And you will see in time, with the documents, it will be very clear to the public exactly what McKinsey did.So, the apology is a little too late for the families who lost loved ones to this disease, to this epidemic, and to the families who are struggling every day. Yes, we have COVID, and that is, understandably, taking the front pages, but this crisis, this opioid crisis, has not gone away. It’s gotten worse, in fact.And so McKinsey needs to pay up. They’re paying up big time with this nearly $600 million consent judgment, where that money is going to go right into our states, so that we can use that money to help treat people, to help with the recovery effort.But I hope it sends a message loud and clear to those entities out there who are willing, it seems, all too willing to put profits ahead of people. There’s a price for that. And I’m proud of the work of state attorneys…
  • Stephanie Sy:Yes, and I know, Attorney General, that you are continuing to pursue a case against Purdue Pharma as well.We will have to leave it there.But, Maura Healey, the attorney general from the great state of Massachusetts, thank you so much for joining us.
  • Maura Healey:Good to be with you, Stephanie. Thank you.

What “medicines” / drugs are you taking? Why? Why is it the assumption that nearly every illness is cued by a drug? What will be the next drug epidemic and which doctors office will it come from? Why don’t these medical professionals lead by example?

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Stephanie Sy
Stephanie Sy

Stephanie Sy is a PBS News Hour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS News Hour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS News Hour Weekend. Prior to joining News Hour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.