WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) – The Supreme Court has rejected a settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would have shielded members of the Sackler family from civil lawsuits over opioids, but also would provide money to deal with effects of the opioid epidemic.

This case was one of several major legal battles remaining on the court’s docket as the traditional end of their term nears. There also are opinions scheduled to be issued Friday.

A total of 61 cases were on the docket this year, most of which have now been decided on.

After deliberating more than six months on Harrington v. Purdue Pharma, the justices in a 5-4 vote blocked an agreement on this case that had been worked out with state and local governments and victims.

The Sacklers would have contributed up to $6 billion and given up ownership of the company but retained billions more. The agreement provided that the company would emerge from bankruptcy as a different entity, with its profits used for treatment and prevention.

The high court had put the settlement on hold last summer, in response to objections from the Biden administration.

It’s unclear what happens next.

Arguments in early December lasted nearly two hours in a packed courtroom as the justices seemed, by turns, unwilling to disrupt a carefully negotiated settlement and reluctant to reward the Sacklers.

The issue for the justices was whether the legal shield that bankruptcy provides can be extended to people such as the Sacklers, who have not declared bankruptcy themselves. Lower courts had issued conflicting decisions over that issue, which also has implications for other major product liability lawsuits settled through the bankruptcy system.

OxyContin went on the market in 1996, and Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of it is often cited as a catalyst of the nationwide opioid epidemic, with doctors persuaded to prescribe painkillers with less regard for addiction dangers.

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