CHARLESTON, W.Va. — OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has settled out of court with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million, removing the drug maker from a lawsuit scheduled to go to trial in May.
According to reports, more than $100 million of the settlement will help finance a new addiction treatment center at Oklahoma State University. OSU’s Center for Wellness and Recovery will also focus on treatment and research in connection with the opioid epidemic. As much as $70 million of the settlement will go to Oklahoma’s cities, counties and tribes and $20 million will pay for medicine for addiction treatment.
Oklahoma still plans to go to trial against 12 other opioid manufacturers including Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., and Johnson & Johnson. The trial is scheduled to start May 28.
The settlement, announced Tuesday, is 27 times more than what then-West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw settled with Purdue Pharma over OxyContin in 2004. The state received $10 million over a four-year period. McGraw originally filed the lawsuit in 2001 claiming Purdue Pharma had aggressively marketed OxyContin in West Virginia leading to addiction. More than a third of the settlement went to attorney fees.
Charleston attorney Rusty Webb, who represents more than two dozen West Virginia cities and counties in pending mass litigation lawsuits against drug companies, said McGraw’s lawsuit was a very novel idea. He said a 2012 lawsuit against three other drug makers, which settled in 2016, paved the way for the current litigation.
The 2004 settlement announcement in West Virginia said the money would be used to finance community-based drug abuse and diversion programs and law enforcement initiatives. Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College received $180,000 of the settlement for its nursing programs that centered on drug abuse.
“It is an acceptable settlement,” Will Steele, McGraw’s managing deputy attorney general, said at the time.
Claims Oklahoma made against Purdue Pharma were many of the same claims McGraw made 18 years ago. The company allegedly aggressively marketed the painkiller to doctors while at the same time not emphasizing its addictive qualities.
Reports in recent weeks have said Purdue Pharma is considering filing for bankruptcy. It is named in more than 1,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments. Webb said Tuesday it remains to be seen what Purdue Pharma will do.
“This (Oklahoma case) is a settlement it’s not a judgment. It makes you wonder about the bankruptcy. It seems to make sense if they were going to file they would have done it before the Oklahoma settlement,” Webb said.
The next large case scheduled for trial involving Purdue Pharma has the state of Massachusetts as the plaintiff. It’s scheduled to be followed by a lawsuit involving Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Lawsuits filed by Cabell County and Huntington could go to trial in 2020. Webb said it would be premature to predict whether Purdue Pharma would settle any or all of those cases.
“It’s hard to say whether it’s a trend or a one time deal. It’s hard to say right now,” Webb said.