Purdue Pharma, the company that produces OxyContin, has agreed pay out $270 million in a settlement over its role in the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma, the state’s attorney general announced Tuesday afternoon. The Sackler family, which owns the company and has itself faced increased scrutiny after emails surfaced showing efforts by one member to mislead the public about the risks of opioids, has also agreed to contribute to the payments.
The settlement averts a trial—and the possibility of any potentially more damaging information emerging in court—set to start May 28 for the now deeply unpopular company, which more than any other company has become associated with the decades-long crisis that in 2017 alone killed 72,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other pharmaceutical companies targeted by the same lawsuit, including Johnson and Johnson, are still scheduled to go to court, and it is not known if they will settle as well.
According to the New York Times, $100 million of the settlement will go toward a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. The Sacklers will contribute $75 million over five years to that center. Another $60 million will go toward state court costs, $20 million for medicine for addiction treatment, and $12.5 million to cities and counties to help them recuperate some of the costs of the epidemic.
Purdue Pharma’s legal troubles are far from over. Although the company has already settled in two other cases, 35 state cases and one massive federal case—a collection of 1,600 smaller ones consolidated and overseen by a judge in Cleveland—still loom. According to the Times, Purdue Pharma has explored the possibility of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring, which would make it harder for plaintiffs to collect on large judgments. That possibility, according to the Times, in part motivated the decision to settle out of court rather than aim for a higher civil judgment.
Recent litigation has battered the Sackler family’s image, and a January court filing in Massachusetts provided evidence several members of the family directed an effort by the company to downplay the addictive nature of the painkillers and push doctors to prescribe heavier doses and keep their patients on it for longer, even as it knew of the dangers and addictive nature of opioids. “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” Richard Sackler wrote in an email in 2001, when he was president of the company, according to the filing. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
The Sacklers are also known for their philanthropy, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate museums in London, and Britain’s National Portrait Gallery have all announced in recent weeks that they would no longer accept donations from the Sackler family.
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary, and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.