Tulsa OK (WorkersCompensation.com) – The maker of OxyContin will pay out an estimated $270 million in payments for litigation, addiction treatment and research to settle a lawsuit brought against it by Oklahoma.
On Tuesday afternoon, Perdue Pharma announced in a press conference that it would settle the suit filed by the state in 2017. It is the first major settlement of suits filed by states across the country in response to the opioid crisis.
In its suit, Oklahoma alleged that Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israeli firm, were at least partially responsible for opioid addictions and deaths across the state, and that the companies should shoulder some of the burden for the costs of health care, law enforcement and treatment of opioid addiction and related issues.
Opioid manufacturers face similar lawsuits from states, counties and municipalities across the country as governments try to cope with an opioid addiction epidemic that has claimed as many as 400,000 lives over the past two decades, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimated the opioid epidemic cost $78.5 billion in 2013, while the 2017 White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated the cost at closer to $504 billion for the 2015 calendar year. A report filed by Oklahoma as part of its lawsuit estimated that tackling the opioid crisis would cost the state more than $8.7 billion over the next two decades.
According to the settlement, Purdue will pay more than $100 million for a new addiction treatment and research facility at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. The Sackler family, which owns Purdue, will pay an additional $75 million over five years for the center.
“This begins a new chapter for those struggling with addiction,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “It is going to save lives and keep families together… Make no mistake, the addition crisis facing our state and our nation is a clear and present danger, but we are doing something about it today.”
The company will also pay $70 million to Oklahoma for litigation costs, and pay Oklahoma cities, counties and Native America tribes for other legal and law enforcement costs. Additionally, the company will pay more than $20 million for addiction treatment medicines for residents.
Purdue has already settled two lawsuits with other states. In 2004, the company settled for $10 million with West Virginia and in 2015, the company settled for $24 million with the state of Kentucky. The lawsuit does not impact Oklahoma’s lawsuit against the remaining two defendants, nor does it impact any of the other lawsuits pending against Purdue.
On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the three opioid manufacturers to delay the state’s upcoming trail by 100 days. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman previously ruled against the delay, despite arguments by the defendants that attorneys could not be ready in time for the trial. The Supreme Court’s decision means the trial against the remaining two defendants will begin on May 28.
“The Supreme Court made the right decision,” Attorney General Hunter said in a statement. “By refusing to review Judge Balkman’s prior decision, we are still on track for trial, where we seek justice for Oklahomans who have been affected by the ongoing opioid epidemic. Every day that goes by, we lose more of our loved ones to overdoses or down the tragic road of addiction… We appreciate the quick action taken by the court and for not rewarding the defendants with more time for a problem of their own making. We continue to prepare for trial, where we will present evidence to prove the state’s case.”
During his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Hunter said the settlement was just the beginning.
“Our trial against Johnson & Johnson, Teva and other manufacturers…is still on the horizon,” he said. “Today’s agreement is only our first step in our ultimate goal in ending this nightmarish epidemic. In the coming weeks, this team and I will continue preparing for trial where we intent to hold the other defendants accountable for their role in creating the worst public health crisis our state and nation have ever seen.”
In a statement, Purdue Pharma said it was pleased with the settlement.
“Purdue is very pleased to have reached an agreement with Oklahoma that will help those who are battling addiction now and in the future,” said Dr. Craig Landau, CEO of Purdue Pharma. “We applaud Attorney General Mike Hunter for his leadership in making such an agreement possible.”
The company said in its statement that it would continue its fight against opioid addiction.
“Purdue has a long history of working to address the problem of prescription opioid abuse and diversion,” said Landau. “We see this agreement with Oklahoma as an extension of our commitment to help drive solutions to the opioid addiction crisis, and we pledge Purdue’s ongoing support to the National Center and the life-saving work it will do for generations to come.”
In February, Hunter released documents that he said showed a disinformation campaign perpetrated by Purdue which either attacked attorneys general who had filed lawsuits or planted fake news stories in national publications and on social media in an attempt to shift the blame for the opioid crisis onto the victims of opioid addiction or to “de-legitimize the motivation behind outside counsel involved in cases,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said at the time.
“The company’s actions are absolutely appalling,” Hunter said in the February statement. “These documents are damning evidence showing Purdue executives were more interested in spreading propaganda than stopping the death toll from rising and fixing the problem they created. Although there was strong suspicion Purdue was engaging in these deceitful acts, seeing it in black and white is unnerving.
A spokesperson for the Sackler family said in a statement: “We have profound compassion for those who are affected by addiction. The National Center will provide immediate assistance to Oklahomans and individuals nationwide who need these services, and our support is in keeping with our family’s continuing commitment to making meaningful contributions to solutions that save lives.”