Want the best from VICE News in your inbox? Sign up here.
The state of Oklahoma just got a massive payout from Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and a subject of the state’s lawsuit seeking a pile of cash to address its overdose crisis.
On Tuesday, Purdue Pharma and the family that owns it agreed to settle with Oklahoma’s attorney general for $270 million, in the first settlement from more than 2,000 opioid-related lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. Oklahoma’s case against Purdue — which Purdue repeatedly sought to delay — was scheduled to go to trial on May 28. The state will continue its lawsuit against the two other defendants it’s blaming for the drug crisis: Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
Purdue has repeatedly been slammed as the pharma boogeyman of the opioid epidemic over its allegedly deceptive marketing practices, which promoted the drug as safe and non-addictive for years. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sued Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, and Teva, in June 2017.
Oklahoma scored a massive win in achieving the first opioid-related settlement against Purdue Pharma, considering the company is reportedly mulling bankruptcy, which, through a legal process, would more evenly divide the drugmakers’ existing assets among the cities, states and tribes seeking settlement. It’s unclear whether any individual plaintiff could now achieve a settlement on the level of Oklahoma’s, although states will certainly try.
“There’s only so much money out there, and there’s a race to the courthouse now,” said Richard Ausness, a law professor at the University of Kentucky. He added Oklahoma’s settlement seemed “a bit on the high side.”
In the settlement agreement, Purdue agreed to spend $102.5 million on a new addiction treatment center at Oklahoma State University, $20 million worth of treatment drugs for that facility, $12 million on cities and towns that need help, and $60 million to recoup the attorney’s fees Oklahoma doled out in the case. The Sackler family — the billionaire clan behind the creation of OxyContin and Purdue — also agreed to spend $75 million out of their own pockets over the next five years, according to Oklahoma’s attorney general.
“I do think that while the settlement and the financial amount is promising as it relates to helping support prevention and treatment services, I do believe these companies should be held legally responsible for the pain and suffering across the United States,” said Michael Botticelli, Obama’s director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and executive director at Boston Medical Center’s Graken Center for Addiction.
This isn’t Purdue’s first settlement related to OxyContin — just the first in a bevy of state-led claims. The company paid more than $600 million in fines to settle a federal lawsuit relating to its marketing practices in 2007.
Editor's note: This story was updated after the Oklahoma attorney general held a press conference.
Cover: FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)