Attorney in Purdue Pharma case worries settlement amount will be low

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s share of the bankruptcy settlement for pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma will probably be substantially less than West Virginia attorneys who took the company to court were seeking.

Mike Woelfel

It’s becoming more and more clear the settlement funds will be based on a population metric rather than other factors in places hardest hit by the addiction problems created by Oxycontin–one of the company’s biggest products.

Huntington lawyer Mike Woelfel, who also serves as a member of the state Senate, represents Cabell, Wayne, and Fayette counties, three of 3,000 plaintiffs across the country in the lawsuit and voted “no” on using population or the “Denver Formula” to determine settlement amounts.

“Basically the Appalachian counties which have been hit very hard by this and the tribes of Native Americans who have been hard hit by this, there’s got to be some formula and my guess is the population formula will likely carry the day,” Woelfel told MetroNews.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also voted “no” for the state. He’ll argue for his position at an Aug. 7 confirmation hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in southern New York.

Woelfel said it’s a disappointing development for those who have been battling for the company to pay up for the damage caused by dependence on their products. Counties and cities in West Virginia argue companies like Purdue Pharma were fully aware of what they were doing and the addiction they created enriched their bottom line substantially.

Woelfel estimated the state and various counties and cities would roughly share about $80 million but it could have been five or six times that amount using another metric he supported.

“We could have quadrupled this, a factor of five or six., there are all kinds of estimates out there, but it’s a sizable reduction on what they call the ‘Denver Formula.,'” he explained.

In addition to representing three West Virginia counties in the lawsuit, Woelfel is also one of 17 members on the bankruptcy’s ad-hoc committee. He said the settlement money from Purdue will be filtered through a lot of hands before it gets to those entities who were most adversely impacted by the opioid crisis.

“Certainly there will be experts and professionals who will consume too much of this money before it ever really gets to an abatement plan,” he explained.

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