TULSA, Okla. (CN) – The maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin and the wealthy family that owns the company agreed Tuesday to pay $270 million to settle claims by the state of Oklahoma as authorities struggle to respond to the nationwide opioid addiction epidemic.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the settlement with Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. He said the money will allow the school’s Center for Wellness and Recovery to “expand its reach nationwide to fight” the epidemic.
“This begins a new chapter for those struggling with addition,” Hunter said. “Since 2018, over half of overdose deaths in Oklahoma were due to pharmaceutical drugs … we are out of time with the responsibility we have from this epidemic.”
Hunter added that Purdue agreed to no longer promote opioids in the state, including the hiring of sales representatives regarding the state’s health care providers.
Oklahoma sued several opioid makers in 2017 in state court, including Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Teva, for allegedly downplaying the risks of using their painkillers while overstating their benefits.
The Purdue settlement was announced one day after the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the drugmakers’ request to delay the trial scheduled to begin in May.
Hunter said “we are ready to go to trial today” with the remaining defendants. When asked if he believes they too will settle, he said “my crystal ball does not tell me” an answer.
The trial will be the first of approximately 2,000 cases filed in federal and state courts nationwide against drugmakers over their role in the epidemic. Over 1,400 of the federal cases have been consolidated in Cleveland federal court, where the judge overseeing it has been urging both sides to reach settlements with state and local governments.
Purdue CEO Dr. Craig Landau said after the announcement the company is “very pleased” with the settlement. He said Purdue with contribute over $102 million for the establishment at OSU of the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment.
“Purdue has a long history of working to address the problem of prescription opioid abuse and diversion,” Landau said in a written statement. “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.”
Purdue added that the Sackler family will contribute $75 million over five years towards the center.
The wealthy Sackler family itself has faced mounting accusations that it has personally made billions of dollars from the epidemic. In January, eight members of the family were added as defendants in New York City’s opioid lawsuit filed in state court.
Previously lauded as philanthropists, the Sacklers have had several of their donations rejected in recent weeks as universities and museums seek to distance themselves. The Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Tate museums in the United Kingdom have both severed their relationships with the family, among others.
Hunter said that $12.5 million of the settlement would go to “directly abate and address” the epidemic’s impact on Oklahoma’s cities and counties. He added that Purdue will pay $60 million to cover the state’s legal costs.
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