Friday December 13, 2019

Maker of OxyContin to Pay $270 Million to Oklahoma as a Settlement

It is the first settlement to come out of the recent coast-to-coast wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue Pharma that threaten to push the company into bankruptcy

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China said Monday it is adding all fentanyl-related compounds to its list of controlled substances, beginning May 1. VOA

The maker of OxyContin and the company’s controlling family agreed Tuesday to pay a groundbreaking $270 million to Oklahoma to settle allegations they helped create the nation’s deadly opioid crisis with their aggressive marketing of the powerful painkiller.

It is the first settlement to come out of the recent coast-to-coast wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue Pharma that threaten to push the company into bankruptcy and have stained the name of the Sackler family, whose members rank among the world’s foremost philanthropists.

“The addiction crisis facing our state and nation is a clear and present danger, but we’re doing something about it today,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said.

Nearly $200 million will go toward establishing a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, while local governments will get $12.5 million. The Sacklers are responsible for $75 million of the settlement.

In settling, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company denied any wrongdoing in connection with what Hunter called “this nightmarish epidemic” and “the worst public health crisis in our state and nation we’ve ever seen.”

The deal comes two months before Oklahoma’s 2017 lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other drug companies was set to become the first one in the recent barrage of litigation to go to trial. The remaining defendants still face trial May 28.

Opioids, including heroin and prescription drugs such as OxyContin, were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the U.S. in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oklahoma recorded about 400 opioid deaths that year. State officials have said that since 2009, more Oklahomans have died from opioids than in vehicle crashes.

Other states have suffered far worse, including West Virginia, with the nation’s highest opioid death rate. It had over 1,000 deaths in 2017.

 

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FILE – Cincinnati police officers, firefighters and medics respond to a possible overdose report at a hotel in downtown Cincinnati. VOA

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said the money that will go toward addiction studies and treatment in Oklahoma will help people across the country. CEO Craig Landau said the company is committed to “help drive solutions to the opioid addiction crisis.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Hanly, who is not involved in the Oklahoma case but is representing scores of other governments, welcomed the deal, saying: “That suggests that Purdue is serious about trying to deal with the problem. Hopefully, this is the first of many.”

But some activists were furious , saying they were denied the chance to hold Purdue Pharma fully accountable in public, in front of a jury.

“This decision is a kick in the gut to our community,” said Ryan Hampton, of Los Angeles, who is recovering from opioid addiction. “We deserve to have our day in court with Purdue. The parents, the families, the survivors deserve at least that. And Oklahoma stripped that from us today.”

Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin in the 1990s and marketed it hard to doctors, making tens of billions of dollars from the drug. But the company has been hit with lawsuits from state and local governments trying to hold it responsible for the scourge of addiction.

The lawsuits accuse the company of downplaying the addiction risks and pushing doctors to increase dosages even as the dangers became known. According to a court filing, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, proudly told the audience at a launch party for OxyContin in 1996 that it would create a “blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”

Earlier this month, Purdue Pharma officials acknowledged that they are considering bankruptcy . But Oklahoma’s attorney general said the company gave assurances it will not take such a step in the near term. And he said the settlement money is “bankruptcy proof” – that is, “it’s not at risk in the event Purdue declares bankruptcy.”

Lance Lang, a 36-year-old recovering user from Oklahoma City, said he is glad some of the settlement will go toward helping those still suffering from addiction.

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FILE – An arrangement of Oxycodone pills is seen in New York, Aug. 29, 2018. VOA

​”My heart breaks for those that we’ve already lost. I’ve buried several myself,” said Lang, who now helps recovering users find housing. “But I also know we have waiting lists of dozens and dozens for our facilities, and the state has waiting lists of hundreds and hundreds of people who need help right now.”

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

Jauire, who lives in Marlborough, Massachusetts, had been organizing a group of hundreds of mothers to go to the first day of the trial and stand outside with photos of their dead children. She said a complete airing of the facts is the only way to fully hold Purdue to account.

A settlement is “a huge disservice to the tens of thousands of families here in the United States who buried a child,” she said. “That’s blood money from our children.”

Members of the Sackler family are defendants in some of the lawsuits but were not actually parties to the Oklahoma case. The company said the family nevertheless voluntarily contributed to the settlement. “We have profound compassion for those who are affected by addiction,” the family said in a statement.

The Sacklers are major donors to cultural institutions, and the family name is emblazoned on the walls at many of the world’s great museums and universities. In the past few weeks, as the accusations have mounted, 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.

A Massachusetts court filing made public earlier this year found that Sackler family members were paid at least $4 billion from 2007 until last year.

ALSO READ: Republican-led US Senate Rejects Democratically-Supported New Green Deal

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 surge of litigation in the past few years that focuses largely on the company’s more recent conduct.

More than 1,400 federal lawsuits over the opioid crisis have been consolidated in front of a single judge in Cleveland who is pushing the drugmakers and distributors to reach a nationwide settlement. (VOA)

Next Story

Children of Opioid Users have High Risk of Attempting Suicide: Study

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007

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Family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn., Aug. 17, 2018. VOA

The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry published by the American Medical Association found children whose parents were prescribed opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as the offspring of people who did not use those drugs.

The latest study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh is the first research attempting to tie rising suicides among U.S. children to the opioid crisis.

“I think that it’s obvious in many ways; it’s just that we were able to put it together and prove it,” said Dr. David Brent, one of the authors of the study.

Brent, of the University of Pittsburgh, said he believes some opioid users might display less care, monitoring and affection for their children, which would explain the higher suicide rate in those kids.

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Laura Levine prepares to dispense drugs at Vocal NY, an organization that works with addicts, where she is the health educator and coordinator for the opioid reversal drug Narcan, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

Suicide increased across all ages in the United States between 1999 and 2016, spiking by over 30% in half the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year.

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007. In the latest study, researchers used medical insurance data from 2010 to 2016 for more than 300,000 children ages 10 to 19, and broke that group down into those whose parents were prescribed opioid drugs and those whose parents were not.

Among the children of parents who used opioids, 0.37% attempted suicide, compared to 0.14 % of the children of non-users, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The parents were all legally prescribed opioids that they used for at least a year. The study did not identify which of those users may have been abusing painkillers, as opposed to using them in line with doctor recommendations.

Challenges for children of drug users

Children of opioid users still had a significantly higher risk of attempting suicide after researchers adjusted for factors such as depression and parental history of suicide.

Some researchers have suggested social media could harm children’s self esteem and increase their suicide risk. But Brent and his co-authors noted social media is prevalent in countries that have not seen a rise in child suicide.

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The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide. Pixabay

U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017 and has promised to hold drugmakers accountable for their part in the crisis.

Nearly 400,000 people died of overdoses between 1999 and 2017 in the United States, resulting in the lowering of overall life expectancy for the first in more than 60 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ALSO READ: UK Study: E-Cigarettes help Smokers Quit as Much as Stop-Smoking Aids

Eric Rice, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s school of social work, said other research has found children of drug users face challenges.

“A doubling in the suicide rate is a pretty shocking manifestation of that, I’ve got to be honest,” Rice said. “But to hear that there are impacts on children which are negative is not a surprising thing,” said Rice, who was not involved with the study. (VOA)