Purdue Pharma Reaches $270 Million Opioid Settlement With Oklahoma
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
One of the big drug companies at the center of the national opioid crisis reached a major settlement today with the state of Oklahoma. Under the deal announced this afternoon, Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, will pay out $270 million over several years. The bulk of the money will help create a new center for addiction treatment and research in Tulsa.
North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann covers opioid litigation for NPR, and he joins me now. Hey, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So at this point, Purdue Pharma faces something like more than a thousand lawsuits across the country. What makes today's settlement in Oklahoma so significant?
MANN: Right. So Purdue Pharma makes this really controversial painkiller OxyContin. They're drowning in lawsuits. This isn't the first settlement the company has reached during this big opioid crisis, but it comes in a crucial year, at a time when people are watching to see if this company will start cutting deals with states and local governments to limit its legal exposure. So this is a big settlement. It'll be looked at as a potential template for future deals all over the country.
CHANG: So what is this - what does this deal look like? What did Purdue agree to do?
MANN: The big piece here is that Purdue and its owners, the Sackler family, will endow this new center at Oklahoma State University. And the idea is to study opioid addiction and find new ways to treat people. Here's Mike Hunter. He's Oklahoma's attorney general.
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MIKE HUNTER: Quite simply, we are out of time to deal with this crisis. The money from this settlement will provide significant and substantial funding to the Center for Wellness and Recovery here, allowing us to focus our attention on what should be our highest priority - Americans struggling with addiction.
CHANG: But the Sackler family and Purdue have endowed other medical facilities and pain treatment centers around the country, right? So are they doing the same thing they're already doing as part of this legal settlement?
MANN: Yeah. It will be interesting to see how people react to this part of the deal. There are some differences of course. The Sacklers won't have their name above the door at this research facility like they do at other places where they've donated a lot of cash. Purdue also has agreed to pay more than $12 million directly to local governments that are struggling to respond to the opioid crisis. And one other thing that's key here is the company has agreed to really strict new limitations on how they market and sell drugs like their OxyContin brand in Oklahoma.
CHANG: I understand that Purdue's CEO, Craig Landau, has been talking recently about the possibility of bankruptcy. Was that even a consideration in today's settlement?
MANN: I think it was a big deal. Mike Hunter, Oklahoma's attorney general, said point-blank that talks with Purdue were very much spurred by these growing questions about the company's future. So Oklahoma effectively negotiated here to get to the front of the line to ensure that they'll see some compensation.
CHANG: So what's Purdue saying about today's settlement?
MANN: The Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson sent NPR a statement saying this resolves all of Oklahoma's claims against the company. He also included a separate statement from the Sackler family that includes this quote. "We have profound compassion for those who are affected by addiction."
But this comes at a time when we've learned a lot of troubling details from internal memos and emails about how hard Sackler family members, who were on Purdue's board at the time, pushed employees, urging them to sell more of these dangerous opioids to more people at higher doses. This was at a time when tens of thousands of people were dying each year from overdoses on painkillers like OxyContin.
CHANG: Now, just really quickly, there are still some other defendants remaining in this Oklahoma case - right? - trials still set for May.
MANN: That's right. And Mike Hunter says he's negotiating with those companies. But if settlements aren't reached, he says he will go to trial.
CHANG: That's Brian Mann with North Country Public Radio. Thanks so much.
MANN: Thank you, Ailsa.
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