How a powerful corporate consulting firm helped create the opioid epidemic

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JUDY WOODRUFF: The opioids crisis that has  taken hundreds of thousands of American lives has gotten less attention during the  pandemic, but its no less dangerous.

In fact, the CDC says drug overdoses and deaths  have grown substantially since the pandemic began.

Now one of the worlds 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, its 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, Massachusetts Attorney General:  Well, Stephanie, what my offices 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 doctors 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, McKinseys fingers are all  over this. Its 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 were 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 McKinseys 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, theres 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: Its 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 its  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. Its  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. Its gotten worse, in fact.

And so McKinsey needs to pay up. Theyre 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. Theres a price for that. And Im 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.

PBS NewsHour: How a powerful corporate consulting firm helped create the opioid epidemic - IT Consulting