Purdue Pharma, makers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, have settled with the state of Oklahoma for a record $240 million. This is Purdue’s third and largest state settlement yet. The drug manufacturer still faces thousands of other pending local, city and state suits, including a 1,600 case consolidated federal suit against Purdue and other drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies for their role in America’s current opioid addiction crisis.
“Purdue appears to have concluded that it was less risky to settle the Oklahoma case than have the allegations publicly aired against it during a televised trial and face exposure to what could have been an astronomical jury verdict.” -Abbe R. Gluck, a professor at Yale Law School who directs the Solomon Center for Health Policy and Law (New York Times)
Although not named in the Oklahoma suit, the Sackler family who owns and manages Purdue Pharma, will personally contribute $75 million to a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. An additional $100 million from the settlement will also go to funding the facility.
The Sackler family has come under severe scrutiny under allegations that they played a direct part in misleading the public about OxyContin’s addictiveness. Massachusetts made public documents showing direct efforts by the Sackler family to market and aggressively promote the drug which helped ignite the opioid crisis.
According to the lawsuit, at a 1996 launch party for OxyContin, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, proudly told the audience that it would create a “blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.” Emails were also discovered showing the Sacklers planned on passing the blame on to those who become addicted to painkillers.
“We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” -Richard Sackler wrote in a 2001 email as president of Purdue Pharma
In addition to funding the new addiction treatment facility, $60 million of the settlement will go to the state to cover litigation cost, $12.5 million to municipalities and counties to reimburse for costs of the opioid epidemic and $20 million in medication for addiction treatment. Purdue Pharma has also pledged not to make a profit from their new opioid overdose treatment injection which is currently being fast-tracked through the FDA.
While some were hopeful the Oklahoma settlement would set a precedent and other pending cases would quickly settle, plaintiffs lawyers in the consolidated federal litigation do not believe the Oklahoma settlement is representative of the broad settlement against multiple defendants.
“There are nearly two dozen other defendants with pending allegations against them in federal court. We believe all of these defendants — opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies — must be held responsible for their role in the epidemic, and we will continue to pursue accountability for the thousands of communities we represent.” Statement by Executive committee of the plaintiffs’ lawyers (New York Times)
Also of concern Purdue Pharma’s CEO says bankruptcy is ‘an option.’ Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family may not have enough funds to pay out the thousands of pending lawsuits against them. If Purdue Pharma were to file bankruptcy, all pending lawsuits would be frozen and moved to bankruptcy court. The recovery amount of each plaintiff would then be decided by a bankruptcy judge.
While there are many defendants in pending opioid suits, the three main defendants are Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson has a history of risking jury trials, most notably in their antipsychotic drug Risperdal and blood thinner Xarelto.
Stephen Sheller, Sheller PC, was selected as one of a few private plaintiff firms to assist Philadelphia in a suit against opioid manufacturers. The Sheller Family Foundation also made a donation to support My Sister’s Place, a treatment facility in Philadelphia which supports opioid-addicted mothers and their families.
Purdue Pharma and Sacklers Reach $270 Million Settlement in Opioid Lawsuit, New York Times, March 26, 2019
Sacklers Directed Efforts to Mislead Public About OxyContin, Court Filing Claims, New York Times, January 15, 2019