- Purdue Pharma and the family that owns it have agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a national center for addiction research — part of a settlement deal to an Oklahoma lawsuit claiming the company used deceptive marketing tactics that fueled the state's opioid epidemic.
- The money will fund education, research, treatment, and public policy programs at Oklahoma State University's Center for Wellness and Recovery, which launched in November 2017. The endowment will help the university to expand the center's footprint to a "national level," according to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
- Purdue will put $102.5 million toward establishing the national center and provide $20 million worth of medicines to support its treatment goals. Another $72.5 million is being made available to Oklahoma for its litigation costs and for the effects of the opioid crisis on its counties and cities. Any money leftover from that $72.5 million will go to the center. The Sackler family is also pledging $75 million to the center over a five-year period.
In the U.S., more than 17,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2017. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the economic burden from prescription opioid misuse has reached $78.5 billion annually.
Purdue is the company behind the widely known painkiller Oxycontin (oxycodone). By The Wall Street Journal's count, more than 1,600 opioid lawsuits in the U.S. target Purdue and the role it played in the country's current opioid crisis.
The company has settled with states before — reaching deals with West Virginia and Kentucky in 2004 and 2015, respectively — but this much larger settlement is the first from that recent wave of litigation against Purdue. As such, Oklahoma's agreement with the company could potentially provide a template for the dozens of other states which are still pursuing litigation against the company.
A statement from the families of Mortimer Sackler and Raymond Sackler, however, noted "the agreement announced today is not a financial model for future settlement discussions."
Aside from Purdue, the Oklahoma lawsuit also names Johnson & Johnson and Teva. A trial "remains on track" for May 28 with those other defendants, according to Hunter, Oklahoma's attorney general.
"This agreement is only the first step in our ultimate goal of ending this nightmarish epidemic," Hunter said in a statement. "In the coming weeks, the team and I will continue preparing for the trial 24/7, where we intend to hold the other defendants in this case accountable for their role in creating the worst public health crisis our state and nation has ever seen."
Of the more than 3,000 Oklahomans admitted to a hospital for a non-fatal overdose in 2018, the state estimates 80% involved a prescription opioid. About half of all drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma last year were attributed to a pharmaceutical.
In addition to the payments, terms of Purdue's settlement hold that the company will not promote opioids in Oklahoma.
Amid increasing backlash against Purdue and its owners, the Sackler family, the company last June decided to lay off the remainder of its sales force.
Ongoing litigation could also provide new windows into the company's past tactics in promoting its painkillers. A recent report from STAT and ProPublica, for example, found Purdue had not too long ago been looking to expand in the "attractive market" of opioid addiction treatment.
Such revelations have kept the spotlight — and the pressure — on Purdue. Just this week, news outlets reported that three museums are no longer accepting donations from the Sacklers.