The state of Oklahoma has reached a settlement with Purdue Pharma, one of the leading manufacturers of prescription painkillers. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter held a news conference to announce details of the agreement with Purdue Pharma, which has made billions of dollars from OxyContin but has been hit with over 1,000 lawsuits filed by state and local governments trying to hold the company responsible for the scourge of addiction.

The settlement will establish a nearly $200 million endowment at Oklahoma State University's Center for Wellness and Recovery that will go toward treating addiction, Hunter announced. It will also provide an annual $15 million payment to the center over a 5-year period and ongoing contributions of addiction treatment medicine.

Hunter said the settlement is a first step - but a big one - in his fight against a number of pharmaceutical companies that he claims played a large role in creating the public health crisis of opioid addiction. 

"The steps we've taken today to ensure that their efforts to promote their drugs are curtailed dramatically," Hunter said.

The pharmaceutical company, based in Stamford, Connecticut, and owned by the Sackler family, will pay $270 million to resolve the suit. The endowment will initially fund more than $102 million that will go towards the Center.  Next year - OSU will begin receiving an annual $15 million over five years. During that time - there will be $20 million in ongoing contributions to addiction treatment medicine.

Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of the Center for Health Sciences, says the money will go incredibly far.

"To be a leader in also developing a better understanding and better treatment paths, and this amount of money allows us to do that," she said.

Prescription opioids like OxyContin were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hunter pointed out statistics show 3,000 Oklahomans were admitted to the hospital last year for overdose with 80 percent of those from prescription opioids.

"The sooner we get money deployed and the sooner we can start funding centers like OSU - the sooner we can have an impact on the epidemic," he said.

Purdue Pharma was one of 13 drug manufacturers named in Oklahoma’s lawsuit. The 12 remaining defendants still face trial in May. It would be the first of the current round of lawsuits brought against the industry across the U.S. to go to trial.

Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin more than 20 years ago and marketed the strong prescription painkiller aggressively to doctors. Experts say those tactics contributed to overuse and abuse.

"I'm very proud that OSU was the first to take this on, and we did it because the state is in need," said Dr. Kayse Shrum, OSU Center for Health Sciences.

Oklahoma sued opioid manufacturers in 2017, accusing them of fraudulent marketing that led to thousands of overdoses and deaths. State officials have said that since 2009, more Oklahomans have died from opioids than in vehicle crashes.

Purdue Pharma has also agreed not to promote opioids in Oklahoma. 

This month, Purdue Pharma officials acknowledged that are considering filing for bankruptcy because of the crush of lawsuits. Hunter said the settlement with the state is bankruptcy proof.

 

As accusations have mounted about the company’s sales strategies, the Sackler family that controls Purdue Pharma has faced personal lawsuits and growing public pressure. A Massachusetts court filing made public earlier this year found that family members were paid at least $4 billion from 2007 until last year.

The Sacklers are major philanthropists around the world, and the family name is emblazoned on the walls at many of the world’s great museums and universities.

But in the past few weeks, the Tate museums in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York have cut ties with the family, and other institutions have come under pressure to turn down donations or otherwise distance themselves from the Sacklers.

A lawyer suing Purdue on behalf of local governments across the country said Tuesday that he welcomes the settlement.

“That suggests that Purdue is serious about trying to deal with the problem,” said Paul Hanly, who is not involved in the Oklahoma case but is representing scores of other governments. “Hopefully, this is the first of many.”

More than 1,400 federal court cases against pharmaceutical companies have been consolidated in front of a single judge in Cleveland who is pushing the drugmakers and distributors to settle with state and local governments.