The maker of the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin has reached a settlement with the state of Oklahoma over its role in the nation’s deadly opioid crisis, officials said Tuesday. The terms were not immediately disclosed.
Oklahoma’s attorney general scheduled an afternoon news conference to announce details of the agreement with Purdue Pharma, which has made billions of dollars from OxyContin but has been hit with over 1,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments trying to hold the company responsible for the scourge of addiction.
Prescription opioids like OxyContin were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Purdue Pharma was one of 13 drug manufacturers named in Oklahoma’s lawsuit. The 12 remaining defendants still face trial in May. It would be the first of the current round of lawsuits brought against the industry across the U.S. to go to trial.
Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin more than 20 years ago and marketed the strong prescription painkiller aggressively to doctors. Experts say those tactics contributed to overuse and abuse.
The Oklahoma settlement — which could signal that Purdue is ready to strike deals elsewhere — was announced after the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from drugmakers to postpone the start of the state’s trial.
Sandy Coats, an attorney for Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Oklahoma sued opioid manufacturers in 2017, accusing them of fraudulent marketing that led to thousands of overdoses and deaths. State officials have said that since 2009, more Oklahomans have died from opioids than in vehicle crashes.
This month, Purdue Pharma officials acknowledged that are considering filing for bankruptcy because of the crush of lawsuits.
As accusations have mounted about the company’s sales strategies, the Sackler family that controls Purdue Pharma has faced personal lawsuits and growing public pressure. A Massachusetts court filing made public earlier this year found that family members were paid at least $4 billion from 2007 until last year.
The Sacklers are major philanthropists around the world, and the family name is emblazoned on the walls at many of the world’s great museums and universities.
But in the past few weeks, the Tate museums in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York have cut ties with the family, and other institutions have come under pressure to turn down donations or otherwise distance themselves from the Sacklers.
A lawyer suing Purdue on behalf of local governments across the country said Tuesday that he welcomes the settlement.
“That suggests that Purdue is serious about trying to deal with the problem,” said Paul Hanly, who is not involved in the Oklahoma case but is representing scores of other governments. “Hopefully, this is the first of many.”
More than 1,400 federal court cases against pharmaceutical companies have been consolidated in front of a single judge in Cleveland who is pushing the drugmakers and distributors to settle with state and local governments.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Associated Press reporter Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.
SOURCE: KEN MILLER and GEOFF MULVIHILL, AP