ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
A federal judge in Abingdon, Virginia, has accepted a settlement agreement with the maker of the drug OxyContin. It includes one of the largest fines ever lobbied against a pharmaceutical company - $634 million. Purdue Pharma and three of its top executives admitted to lying about OxyContin's potential for addiction and abuse. The judge invited victims to speak briefly in court today. And NPR's Kathy Lohr was there.
Kathy, tell us about this settlement deal and what the judge said.
KATHY LOHR: Yes. Judge James Jones accepted the settlement agreement, which includes the $634 million in fines with a couple of regrets. There's a lot of money - $470 million - going to compensate federal and state programs, including Medicaid. Another $130 million is going to settle private civil lawsuits. But there's no money for education or for treatment of people who have been addicted to OxyContin or other prescription drugs. And the judge said he would have really preferred to see that. The company, Purdue Pharma, got five years probation and must pay the huge fines, and the three individuals involved - Michael Friedman, who is the former president; Howard Udell, who is the chief counsel; and Paul Goldenheim, the medical director, formerly - they all got three years probation and 400 hours of community service work.
SIEGEL: Now, the judge heard statements today from people affected by OxyContin abuse. What did they say?
LOHR: There were some real heartbreaking stories in the courtroom. They were 19 people who spoke, mostly moms, dads, grandparents. They all told the judge about family members who were addicted and some who died, mostly young people, from overdoses of OxyContin.
They gave many personal experiences. They talked about the heroin-like high that people get from crushing up the drug and snorting it. And that - say that it's very much it's prone to abuse addiction and even death.
And some of the folks who spoke out today asked the judge not to approve the settlement because they wanted the company executives to do jail time. And they just said that, you know, fines were not enough.
SIEGEL: And what did officials from Purdue Pharma say about the settlement?
LOHR: Officials from Purdue actually said some interesting things. They denied all along, I guess, that there are victims in the case. They said the company marketed to doctors, and the doctors were responsible for prescribing the drugs. Of course, that angered all these people who were here in court today and many others who have loved ones who died.
Purdue also said that the three company executives really did nothing wrong. They pleaded guilty to misbranding, but they were the top officers. And so they accepted responsibility for a few, they said, who did lie about the drug.
SIEGEL: And I understand there was a protest there today as well. What was that about?
LOHR: You know, there were people from all over the country here - from Michigan, California, Chicago, and Florida, all over the Southeast - and they just say they want people to be aware of the dangers of OxyContin. They say that the drug should be re-branded so that this very strong painkiller would not be used for moderate pain or dental-type pain, only for severe pain, and that's it.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Kathy Lohr at the federal court in Abingdon, Virginia. Kathy, thank you.
LOHR: You're welcome.
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