Minnesota to receive nearly $8M in McKinsey opioid settlement

The money will go to opioid prevention and education in Minnesota.
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The State of Minnesota will get nearly $8 million thanks to a multistate settlement with McKinsey and Company for its role in helping manufacturers like Purdue Pharma profit from the opioid epidemic.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Thursday announced Minnesota joined a coalition of attorneys general from 47 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories in the $573 million settlement with McKinsey, a global consulting firm, with the funds going toward ending the opioid epidemic. 

This settlement resolves investigations into McKinsey for its role working with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers, with court filings describing that McKinsey contributed to the opioid crisis by promoting marketing schemes and consulting services to the drugmakers, Ellison's release said. 

The opioid epidemic hit Minnesota hard over the past 20 years. During that time, nearly 5,000 Minnesotans died from an opioid-involved overdose, while also significantly impacting communities and creating costs to the state related to health care, criminal justice, child welfare and programs needed to respond to the crisis, the release said. 

“No amount of money can make Minnesota families and communities whole for the death and destruction that Purdue, other companies, and those that advised them have caused in the opioid crisis,” Attorney General Ellison said in a statement. “McKinsey played a key role in creating marketing strategies that opioid manufacturers used to drive up sales and profit at the cost of Minnesotans’ lives. This settlement ensures they’re held accountable for it."

The complaint against McKinsey says it advised Purdue Pharma on how to maximize its profits by targeting high-volume opioid prescribers by using specific messaging to get physicians to prescribe more OxyContin to more patients and circumventing pharmacy restrictions to fill high-dose prescriptions.

Internal Purdue Pharma documents described McKinsey's work as "turbocharging" its OxyContin sales. And when states began to sue Purdue's directors for its role in the opioid epidemic, people at McKinsey emailed each other about deleting documents and any work related to Purdue.

Purdue pleaded guilty in November 2020 to criminal charges for its role in the crisis that contributed to thousands of deaths, admitting that it paid doctors to get them to write more prescriptions for painkillers and that it paid a medical records company to send doctors information on patients that encouraged them to prescribe opioids, among other crimes. 

Purdue's guilty pleas were part of a criminal and civil settlement announced in October 2020 between Purdue and the U.S. Justice Department. 

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Settlement details

This is the first multistate opioid settlement that has resulted in "substantial payment" to states to address the ongoing epidemic, the release said, noting money will be used to ease the damage caused by the opioid epidemic. 

Minnesota will get more than $7.98 million in the settlement, with $6.6 million being paid within 60 days. The rest will be paid over four years, Ellison noted. 

The Opioid Epidemic Response Advisory Council, created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2019, will help arrange how the money is distributed to pay for abatement efforts in the state, as is required by state law.

The settlement also calls for McKinsey to release to the public "tens of thousands" of internal documents that detail its work for Purdue Pharma and other opioid companies.

“It’s also critically important that we’re requiring McKinsey to disclose its internal documents. We need to shine daylight on exactly how McKinsey, Purdue, and everyone responsible for the opioid crisis caused the death and destruction they did, so that no one can ever do it again,” Ellison said in a statement. 

McKinsey has also agreed to adopt a strict document-retention plan; continue its investigation into allegations that two of its partners tried to destroy documents in response to investigations related to Purdue Pharma; implement an ethics code that all partners must agree to annually; and stop advising companies on potentially dangerous Schedule II and III narcotics, the release said. 

Ellison's office still has a lawsuit pending against Purdue Pharma and its owners (the Sackler family) for the role it played in fostering and sustaining the opioid crisis. The attorney general's office notes that after Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019, Ellison continued to pursue the lawsuit in bankruptcy court along with a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general.

The state attorney general has also taken action against opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics. It sued the company in 2018, and the lawsuit was resolved after Insys filed for bankruptcy in 2019. 

Opioids in Minnesota 

The number of opioid overdose deaths and nonfatal opioid overdoses has been increasing in Minnesota since 2000, the Minnesota Department of Health says, noting the epidemic has impacted people of all ages, races, and economic classes but opioid-related overdose deaths disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous Minnesotans.

MDH said last summer that commonly prescribed opioids like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin made up the greatest number of all drug overdose deaths in Minnesota up until 2017. Deaths associated with prescription opioids started decreasing in 2018 and the trend continued in 2019.

Now, synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, make up the greatest number of overdose deaths.

In 2019, 428 Minnesotans died from an opioid-related drug overdose, including 309 who overdosed on a synthetic opioid, 143 people who overdosed on a commonly prescribed opioid and 106 who overdosed on heroin, MDH reported on Jan. 22.

Meanwhile, in 2019 there were 2,823 emergency room visits for non-fatal overdoses involving opioids, including 1,306 that did not involve heroin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the opioid epidemic in the United States began in the late 1990s when opioids started being prescribed more often than they used to, which contributed to the rise in the number of prescription opioid-related overdose deaths starting in 1999.

The CDC considers that the first of three waves of opioid overdose deaths. 

The second wave of opioid deaths began in 2010, with rapid increases in opioid overdose deaths involving heroin. 

Some people who got addicted to prescription painkillers turned to street opioids, like heroin or synthetic drugs, to get their fix. (The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), citing national studies, says 80% of people who use heroin first used and then misused prescription opioids, however just 4% of those who were prescribed opioids went on to use heroin.)

The third wave began in 2013, with "significant increases" in overdose deaths involving illicitly manufactured drugs like fentanyl (the drug that killed Prince), which can be found in combination with heroin, as counterfeit pills or with cocaine. 

For more information on Minnesota's response to the opioid epidemic, including prevention efforts, education, treatment and recovery, click here

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