OxyContin maker, Oklahoma settle lawsuit
Purdue Pharma and its billionaire owners, the Sackler family, reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma in its lawsuit over the drugmaker’s production and marketing of the OxyContin painkiller, which the state blamed for driving America’s deadly opioid crisis.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter had sought $20 billion in damages from Purdue Pharma and other drug manufacturers, which still face 35 lawsuits brought by other states and almost 2,000 lawsuits by county and city governments and other entities.
“The addiction crisis facing our state and nation is a clear and present danger, but we’re doing something about it today,” said Mr. Hunter, who filed the lawsuit against Purdue two years ago.
The $270 million settlement will fund addiction research and treatment.
Health care policy experts said the Purdue/Sackler family settlement is a victory for local governments in their legal battle with Big Pharma over who should pay for the staggering health care costs associated with the opioid epidemic, which kills roughly 130 Americans a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oklahoma alleged that Connecticutbased Purdue and other companies named in the lawsuit, including Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical, aggressively marketed OxyContin while “falsely downplaying the risk of opioid addiction” and overselling the drug’s benefits.
The Sacklers are worth an estimated $13 billion, according to Forbes magazine, and were once benefactors to some of the world’s largest museums, including the Tate in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Their role in the opioid crisis, however, has brought them under increasing fire and led to museums to reject the family’s donations.
While they were not named as defendants in the Oklahoma lawsuit, the Sacklers repeatedly have denied the allegations.
“The recent attacks on our family are not accurate and misdirect attention away from crucial issues such as the terrifying rise in illicit fentanyl overdoses,” the Sacklers said in a statement.
Purdue Pharma said the Oklahoma settlement “resolved all of the state’s claims” against the drug company, adding that it had hired restructuring experts and was mulling whether to file for bankruptcy.
The agreement outlined plans by the company to contribute nearly $200 million to create the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, fund county and city efforts to fight the crisis in the state, and cover the costs and fees related to the lawsuit.
Purdue added that the Sacklers will contribute $75 million toward the construction of center for addiction studies.
Figures for the overall health care, incarceration and law enforcement costs related to the opioid epidemic are incomplete. Oklahoma has estimated it has cost the state nearly $9 billion, while Massachusetts officials have estimated $15.2 billion when lost productivity is factored in.
Court documents filed in Massachusetts alleged that between 2008 and 2016 the Sacklers made more than $4 billion from opioid sales.
In Cleveland, a federal judge is considering a case that has consolidated more than 1,400 lawsuits against Purdue and other pharmaceutical firms and distributors that could result in a massive settlement with state and local governments.
Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, said the Oklahoma settlement over the marketing of the painkiller “resolved all of the state’s claims.”