OSWEGO — More than a dozen states and 2,000 local governments reached a tentative settlement this week with OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and the billionaire Sackler family that owns the company, but several states, including New York, object to the deal.
Oswego County is one of the thousands of local governments that filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers — including the Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma — in recent years, seeking relief from the staggering cost of opioid addiction. Just one of dozens of defendants, Purdue Pharma has tentatively agreed to pay $12 billion as part of a settlement that would also see the company declare bankruptcy and oust the wealthy family at its helm.
The federal litigation, which some attorneys have described as a “test case,” is scheduled to go to trial in October, but the Cleveland-based judge overseeing the case has been pushing for a national settlement. Even if Purdue and the wealthy Sackler family that oversees the company reaches a settlement, there are dozens of other defendants named in the cases brought by states and local municipalities.
Attorney Paul Hanly, the lead litigator on the case for Oswego County and chair of complex litigation for national law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, said this week the deal was “still highly tentative,” and noted the settlement would require more support from state attorneys general and approval from bankruptcy court.
“So there are a lot of ‘ifs’,” Hanly said. “And if such a deal went through it would definitely benefit Oswego, but the amount is now impossible to determine.”
The county lawsuit, filed in January 2018, seeks relief for the “millions of dollars (Oswego County) spends each year” as a result of the rising use and abuse of opioids, which the suit claims was created in large part by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaigns.
Federal, state and local officials have continuously pointed out the adverse impact opioid addiction has on communities. Local officials pointed to public safety costs, skyrocketing foster care expenses and the costs associated with treating opioid use disorder.
Hanly said the proposed settlement, of which details are still being ironed out, would see the wealthy Sackler family contribute at least $3 billion and up to $8 billion, in addition to relinquishing all control of Purdue and the foreign drug makers the company currently owns. If approved, the settlement proposal would also see future sale proceeds from the companies go to states and counties.
Details on how settlement monies would be divided among the entities involved in the lawsuit is not yet clear.
Those in support of the settlement say it would quickly provide funding and resources to help those struggling with opioid addiction, rather than waiting for an uncertain, protracted court battle after Purdue files for bankruptcy, which is expected in the near future.
Associated Press reports indicate two dozen attorneys general, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, oppose the settlement, arguing the deal doesn’t include enough money or accountability from one of the company’s many feel is most responsible for the ongoing opioid epidemic.
In a statement earlier this week, James said “a deal that doesn’t account for the depth of pain and destruction caused by Purdue and the Sacklers is an insult, plain and simple.”
“While our country continues to recover from the carnage left by the Sacklers’ greed, this family is now attempting to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis,” James said, adding she would continue to seek justice for victims and fight to hold bad actors accountable.
First filed in August 2018, the state lawsuit alleges fraud and deception in the marketing of opioid products and claims drug companies are largely responsible for creating widespread addiction and overdose deaths.
The state attorney general’s office called OxyContin the “taproot” of the opioid epidemic, pointing to the 1996 unveiling of the drug and the accompanying national marketing campaign that “relied on deception and insider payoff to overcome a long-established medical understanding that opioids posed a high risk of addiction and abuse.”
The state’s lawsuit alleges the state is “in the throes of an opioid epidemic that has ravaged the lives of its residents and drained its public coffers for more than two decades.” The suit argues the defendants “deliberately betrayed” their duties in order to profit from the “plague they knew would be unleashed.”
Drug manufacturers have continually denied wrongdoing, saying the medicines were designed to bring pain relief to patients suffering from acute and chronic pain.
Purdue previously pleaded guilty in 2007 to misleading doctors, patients and regulators about the risks of OxyContin, and the company at the time paid a more than $630 million fine.
Nationwide, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC says more than half a million people in the United States died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015.
A report published by The White House Council of Economic Advisers in 2017 set the cost of the opioid crisis — including lost productivity, health care, drug treatment and childcare costs — at more than $500 billion by 2015, including lost productivity.