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Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to monitor opioid maker

Purdue Pharma, which sells OxyContin, announces appointment during bankruptcy proceedings

Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and U.S. agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, is interviewed in June 20
Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and U.S. agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, is interviewed in June 2019 at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and U.S. agriculture secretary, will monitor Purdue Pharma’s marketing efforts to ensure the OxyContin maker is not overstating the benefits of its opioid painkillers or downplaying the danger of addiction.

Purdue Pharma announced the appointment Friday as part of its federal bankruptcy proceedings. Vilsack worked on rural opioid issues as agriculture secretary under former President Barack Obama.

Purdue is facing more than 2,000 lawsuits over its role in the nation’s opioid crisis, which has been linked to more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000. The Stamford, Conn.-based company entered bankruptcy court in White Plains, N.Y., last year as part of an effort to settle those claims. It’s trying to get buy-in for a proposed settlement that could be worth more than $10 billion over time.

The lawsuits against Purdue and the members of the Sackler family who own the company are on hold while the parties try to reach a settlement. Purdue has already agreed to cease the marketing practices at the heart of the lawsuits. Critics say its aggressive marketing practices, including to doctors, helped fuel the crisis beginning in the late 1990s.

The judge handling its case recommended last year that Purdue hire a monitor to ensure compliance, and the company agreed.

Vilsack, president and chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, is to issue reports to Purdue’s board and the court. Purdue has not said publicly how much he will be paid.

The Democrat served two terms as governor of Iowa, then eight years overseeing the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Obama. In the last years of that job, his duties included overseeing the federal response to the opioid crisis in rural areas.

In his new role, Vilsack is to have access to Purdue employees, records and facilities.

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