The maker of the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin has reached a settlement of $270 million (£204m) with the state of Oklahoma, as the Sackler family behind the company faces mounting criticism over their role in the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.
Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, was one of 13 drug manufacturers named in Oklahoma’s lawsuit. The 12 remaining defendants, including Johnson and Johnson, still face trial in May.The family, known for their philanthropic work, have been lauded as patrons of the arts for decades, and the family name is emblazoned on the walls at many of the world’s great museums and universities.
However, in the past few weeks, the Tate museums in London and the Guggenheim in New York have cut ties with the family. The National Portrait Gallery in London said last week that it will not proceed with a £1 million pledge from a charitable organisation overseen by some members of the Sackler family. Other institutions have also come under pressure to turn down donations or otherwise distance themselves from the Sacklers.
A Massachusetts court filing made public earlier this year found that family members were paid at least $4 billion from 2007 until last year, largely due to OxyContin.
The settlement means that Purdue Pharma and family members avoid having to testify in court. It also may suggest that Purdue Pharma is preparing to settle other suits.
Last week the company said it was in active discussions with the various states’ authorities and attorney generals.
“Purdue is very pleased to have reached an agreement with Oklahoma that will help those who are battling addiction now and in the future,” said Dr. Craig Landau, CEO of Purdue Pharma.
“We applaud Attorney General Mike Hunter for his leadership in making such an agreement possible.”
The company 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 them responsible for the scourge of addiction. The lawsuits could total as much as $10 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.
More than $100 million from the Oklahoma settlement will go to fund a new addiction treatment and research centre at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. The Sacklers, who were not named in the lawsuit, will contribute an additional $75 million over five years to the centre.
More than $70 million will go to pay Oklahoma cities, counties and tribes and to reimburse the state for its litigation costs. The package also includes $20 million in medicine for addiction treatment.
Three Sackler brothers – Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond – acquired a company in 1952 that later became today’s version of Purdue Pharma.
Not all of their descendants are involved in Purdue Pharma, but those that are are believed to have made billions from drugs including OxyContin.
A spokesperson for the Drs. Mortimer and Raymond Sackler families said: “We have profound compassion for those who are affected by addiction. The National Center will provide immediate assistance to Oklahomans and individuals nationwide who need these services, and our support is in keeping with our family’s continuing commitment to making meaningful contributions to solutions that save lives.
"We also want to make clear that the recent attacks on our family are not accurate and misdirect attention away from crucial issues such as the terrifying rise in illicit fentanyl overdoses.
"While the agreement announced today is not a financial model for future settlement discussions, the establishment of the National Center is a unique and important step that we hope will save lives, by creating breakthrough innovations in the prevention and treatment of addiction, and point towards how we can achieve a national resolution."
Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin more than 20 years ago and are accused of marketing the strong prescription painkiller aggressively to doctors. Experts say those tactics contributed to overuse and abuse.
Prescription opioids like OxyContin were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the US in 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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.
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.
This month, Purdue Pharma officials acknowledged that are considering filing for bankruptcy because of the crush of lawsuits.
A lawyer suing Purdue on behalf of local governments across the country said on 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."