Negotiations toward a massive settlement from drug makers for their role in the opioid epidemic is increasingly seeming uncertain. For Rhode Island, the outcome could carry consequences felt for years.

Two state attorneys general told colleagues over the weekend that they expected Purdue Pharma to declare bankruptcy rather than settle. The manufacturer, along with the Sacklers who own and operate it, has been at the center of the negotiations.

If the talks fall apart, it would unleash a years-long flood of litigation. Roughly 2,000 suits against drug makers for their role in the crisis are pending in federal courts. Hundreds more sit waiting in state courts.

For Rhode Island, years of litigation could prove especially challenging.

"They may have to hire outside counsel, like they did with the lead paint," says Arlene Violet, who served as the state's attorney general in the 80s. Outside counsel would be costly, particularly for an AG office as small as Rhode Island's.

Purdue Pharma said in a statement Sunday that the talks have not concluded. This contradicted earlier reports that the talks were on the rocks, and that Purdue was expected to declare bankruptcy.

If settlement talks do ultimately fail, Violet says current AG Peter Neronha will face an intricate, expensive math problem. "His equation is going to be, 'How much of these monies will be dissipated because of legal fees, court costs, discovery costs and not the opioid abuse (treatments) and reimbursements?"