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Oklahoma Becomes First to Settle with OxyContin Makers
Following a rejection on Monday by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to delay the start of trial by 100 days, Purdue Pharma reached a settlement with the state for a sum totaling $270 million. The court date, already set for May 28, will continue with the suit’s other defendants (drug manufacturers Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, and others). In a statement released Tuesday, Purdue said the agreement reached between the company and the state attorney general’s office “resolves all of the state’s claims.” The lawsuit claimed the manufacturers downplayed the risk of opioid addiction and made misleading statements that resulted in the deaths of thousands.
Purdue and a slew of other opioid manufacturers, distributors, pharmacy chains still face litigation in 36 states, including a collection of 1600 lawsuits under one judge in Cleveland.
The payout breakdown from this settlement includes:
- $102.5 million for the creation of the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University*
- $75 million from the Sackler family, specifically, to be paid over five years to the Center
- $60 million designated to reimburse state for litigation costs
- $12.5 million to counties to tackle opioid crisis costs
- ($20 million in addiction treatment medication is also included)
*The program will take the university’s current Center for Wellness and Recovery (with an annual budget of $2.4 million) and become the new treatment center.
Addiction Crisis Fallout
Last year, 130 Americans died every day from an opioid-related overdose. Over 47,600 people suffered a drug overdose that involved an opioid in 2017, a nearly 600% increase from 1999.
Purdue, along with other complicit corporations involved in the manufacturing and approval of prescription opioids, is accused of misleading the public about the addictive potential of its drugs. For Purdue, OxyContin® became a major drug of illicit abuse nearly a decade ago, forcing the company to change the drug’s formula in the hopes of making it less prone to misuse. Nonetheless, many people’s dependency on the drug was so strong that thousands across the country turned to heroin.
Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, revealed damning documents containing an email written by former Purdue executive, Richard Sackler, demonstrating the company’s intentions early on in the epidemic.
We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.
While many attorneys in federal and state cases still waiting trial praise the settlement, most see how far is yet to go.
In a statement, the executive committee of the plaintiffs’ lawyers said, “There are nearly two dozen other defendants with pending allegations against them in federal court. We believe all of these defendants — opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies — must be held responsible for their role in the epidemic, and we will continue to pursue accountability for the thousands of communities we represent.”
What Comes Next
Oklahoma was merely the first lawsuit in a long string of cases against entities which either benefited from, or were negligent in, the opioid epidemic. As opioid-related deaths begin to slow, and even reverse in some areas of the country, repairing these communities will likely be slow and costly. So, what happens next?
Abbe R. Gluck, a Yale law professor and director of the Solomon Center for Health Policy and Law said, “Purdue appears to have concluded that it was less risky to settle the Oklahoma case than have the allegations publicly aired against it during a televised trial and face exposure to what could have been an astronomical jury verdict.”
The state of Oklahoma originally sought $20 billion in damages.
“The settlement does put a stake in the ground for the other cases. It telegraphs what these cases might be worth and makes the elephant in the room even larger — namely, do Purdue and the Sacklers have sufficient funds to give fair payouts in the 1600-plus cases that remain?”
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