Today, the New York Times reported that OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, will pay $270 million to settle a lawsuit launched against Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies by the state of Oklahoma. Other pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson and Johnson are still named in the suit. The trial is set to begin on May 28.
More than $100 million will fund a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa; the Sacklers will contribute an additional $75 million over five years to the center, though they are not named in the lawsuit. Another $70 million will pay Oklahoma cites, counties, and Native American nations, and reimburse the state for its litigation bills. The company will also provide $20 million worth of medicine for addiction treatment.
In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, 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.”
According to the New York Times, “the settlement also means that the public will not hear a full recounting of Purdue’s actions in promoting OxyContin to doctors and underplaying its addictive properties, including testimony by members of the Sackler family.”
“Purdue appears to have concluded that it was less risky to settle the Oklahoma case than have the allegations publicly aired against it during a televised trial and face exposure to what could have been an astronomical jury verdict,” Abbe R. Gluck, a professor at Yale Law School who directs the Solomon Center for Health Policy and Law, told the New York Times, adding that “the settlement does put a stake in the ground for the other cases. It telegraphs what these cases might be worth and makes the elephant in the room even larger — namely, do Purdue and the Sacklers have sufficient funds to give fair payouts in the 1600-plus cases that remain?”
In a separate statement sent to Hyperallergic, Dr. Mortimer and Dr. Raymond Sackler Families said: “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.”
In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, the co-lead plaintiff attorneys in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation said:
This settlement is another reflection of the extraordinary importance and strength of the claims against Purdue Pharma. […] we have long alleged that Purdue Pharma ignited today’s epidemic by starting the disturbing practice of deceptive opioid marketing, convincing both doctors and the American public to trust that these drugs were safe and virtually non-addictive. Purdue’s wrongdoing, however, does not stand alone. There are nearly two dozen other defendants with pending allegations against them in federal court. We believe all of these defendants—opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies—must be held responsible for their role in the epidemic, and we will continue to pursue accountability for the thousands of communities we represent.
In 2004, Purdue Pharma settled a lawsuit brought by West Virginia for $10 million and one brought by Kentucky in 2015 for $24 million. The company is currently the subject of hundreds of lawsuits, accusing Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers of feeding the opioid crisis for monetary gain through vicious PR campaigns for the drug. The Sacklers are currently named in lawsuits presented by Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The art philanthropist Sackler name has been mired in explosive controversy over the past week: Tate museums, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Columbia University have all released official statements saying they will decline Sackler donations in the future, and the National Portrait Gallery in London returned a £1 million (~$1.3 million) donation.
Editors note 3/26/19: This article has been updated to include statements from the Sacklers sent to Hyperallergic and a quote by Abbe R. Gluck given to the New York Times. It has also been updated to adjust for new information that totals the settlement at $270 million, rather than the almost $275 million originally reported by the New York Times.
Editors note 3/27/19: This article has been updated to include a statement from the co-lead plaintiff attorneys in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.