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State Attorney General Says Sackler Settlement ‘Is Not Perfect,’ But Will Help Combat Opioid Crisis

Toby Talbot

On today’s program: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro explains why the state dropped its opposition to the now $4.2 billion settlement from the Sackler family, who owns OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma; the state Department of Health is finalizing a $34 million contract for contact tracing services after the previous company it worked with did not properly secure private information; and a look at the latest work from musician, producer and Pittsburgh native Derek White.

Pennsylvania dropped opposition to Sackler family settlement
(0:00 - 8:05)

Pennsylvania and 14 other states are backing off on objections to a controversial bankruptcy settlement for the Sackler family, the owners of Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma. Under the settlement, the family will give up ownership of Purdue Pharma and pay $4.2 billion, spread out over the next ten years.

“I have worked diligently over the past year with 24 of my fellow attorneys general, Republicans and Democrats, to try and make sure the Sackler Family and Purdue increase their contribution to meet the needs of the good people of Pennsylvania,” says state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro says he doesn’t think the deal is “perfect,” but says it will result in “meaningful resources and changes” to address the opioid crisis.

With the bankruptcy hearing scheduled for August, Shapiro says he expects the deal will go into effect in early 2022. Attorneys general in nine states are still opposed to the plan, but Shapiro says a judge could enact it anyway.

Under the deal, the Sackler family will admit no wrongdoing.

“At this time, based on the evidence that’s available today, and the laws of our Commonwealth, unfortunately, I do not believe that we’re in a position to bring state criminal charges [against the Sackler family] here in Pennsylvania,” says Shapiro. He notes, however, criminal charges are not entirely off the table.

PA Department of Health looking to hire new contact tracing company
(8:09 - 15:02)

Following a data breach discovered in late April, the Pennsylvania Department of Health is planning to hand the state’s contact tracing responsibilities over to the Boston-based Public Consulting Group.

A company called Insight Global was overseeing contact tracing for the Health Department when roughly 70,000 Pennsylvania residents’ personal information was leaked from Google Drive documents created by the company.

“I should note that there wasn't any Social Security information, there wasn't any banking information, anything like that included in the documents,” says SpotlightPA investigative reporter Jamie Martines. “But personal things like names and birthdays, that could be used to gain access to accounts in other ways, maybe going through password recovery or different multi-factor authentication protocols that could ask you to enter some of that information.”

Martines says she has not heard reports of people experiencing identity theft as a direct result of the leak, but Insight Global and the Department of Health have offered credit card monitoring and other tools to those affected by the leak.

After discovering this data breach, the department fired Insight Global. The Department of General Services then approved a contract with the Public Consulting Group, using the same expedited process by which Insight Global was hired.

“[This Emergency Procurement process] is a way for state agencies to respond to emergencies,” says Martines. “So, think: a boiler breaks in a state prison, and you need to replace it in a hurry to make sure people have heat and hot water. It speeds up the process.”

While the contract with Insight Global was estimated at $25 million, the current contract with the Public Consulting Group appears to be about $34 million. This decision comes at a time when the state’s COVID-19 cases are dropping and mitigation measures are being lifted.

Some question whether the contract is necessary, and if the department is rushing into a new agreement too quickly, setting them up for more problems to come.

“One [expert] who I spoke with suggested that we need more information, we need more data to tell us how successful the current contact tracing program or the previous one under Insight Global had been,” says Martines. “What kind of information we were learning from it, and how we might change it moving forward to better suit our needs.”

Pittsburgh-based musician, songwriter, and producer on his latest album, ‘Mystic Seers’
(15:07 - 22:30)

In the middle of the 19th century, Pittsburgh’s Stephen Foster was considered to be America’s first professional songwriter, establishing a tradition that is surprisingly rich and varied.

90.5 WESA’s Bob Studebaker recently sat down with songwriter, multi instrumentalist, and producer Derek White and learned how this young Pittsburgh native is continuing that proud tradition.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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