US state reaches opioid crisis settlement with maker of prescription painkiller

The maker of OxyContin has reached a settlement with the US state of Oklahoma over the prescription painkiller’s role in the nation’s deadly opioid crisis, officials have said.

Oklahoma’s attorney general scheduled an afternoon news conference to announce the terms of the agreement with Purdue Pharma.

The giant has made billions of dollars from OxyContin but has been hit with over 1,000 lawsuits from state and local governments trying to hold the company responsible for the scourge of addiction.

The move comes after the Sackler Trust, which has donated millions to science, healthcare, education and the arts, announced it was pausing all new giving.

It is run by the Sackler family, members of which control Purdue Pharma.

Pill bottles left in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma (Jessica Hill/AP)

Prescription opioids like OxyContin were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the US in 2017, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Purdue Pharma has settled other lawsuits over the years, and three executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2007.

But this is the first settlement to come out of the current coast-to-coast wave of litigation that focuses mostly on the company’s more recent conduct and threatens to push it into bankruptcy.

The agreement was announced after the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from drugmakers to postpone the start of the state’s trial in May.

Sandy Coats, a lawyer for Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

A lawyer suing Purdue on behalf of local governments across the country welcomed 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.

Dame Theresa Sackler (Philip Toscano/PA)

“Hopefully, this is the first of many.”

But Cheryl Juaire, whose 23-year-old son Corey died of an overdose in 2011, said she was devastated to hear about the settlement.

She had been organising a group of hundreds of mothers to go to the first day of the trial and stand outside with photos of their dead children.

Ms Juaire, from Massachusetts, said a complete airing of the facts is the only way to fully hold Purdue to account.

“They can’t settle,” she said.

“That would be a huge disservice to the tens of thousands of families here in the United States who buried a child.

“That’s blood money from our children.”

Oklahoma sued 13 opioid manufacturers in all 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.

The 12 remaining defendants still face trial.

It would be the first of the current round of lawsuits brought against the industry in the US to go to trial.

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

As the accusations have mounted, 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 four billion US dollars 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 Guggenheim Museum in New York have cut ties with the family, and other institutions have come under pressure to turn down donations or remove the Sackler name.

This month, Purdue Pharma officials acknowledged that are considering filing for bankruptcy because of the crush of lawsuits.

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.

- Press Association

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