(Reuters) – OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and members of the wealthy Sackler family that own the company have reached a $270 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma accusing Purdue of helping fuel the opioid abuse epidemic, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
The settlement with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is the first to result from a wave of recent lawsuits accusing Purdue of deceptively marketing painkillers. The deal came after Purdue lost a bid to delay a May 28 trial in the case, the first to be scheduled of around 2,000 lawsuits nationally.
Hunter’s 2017 lawsuit accused Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd of deceptive marketing that played down the risks of addiction associated with opioid pain drugs while overstating their benefits.
Purdue’s marketing efforts helped turn OxyContin into a top-selling painkiller that by 2017 had generated an estimated $35 billion in sales since the product’s release in 1996, according to the complaint.
The companies deny wrongdoing. The state had been seeking more than $20 billion in damages, according to court papers.
The settlement covers only Purdue, leaving claims pending against J&J and Israel-based Teva, the sources said. On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected an effort by the companies to delay the upcoming trial.
As part of the overall settlement, Purdue will contribute $102.5 million to help fund an addiction treatment center at Oklahoma State University, a source said.
The Sacklers, who were not named in the Oklahoma litigation, agreed to contribute $75 million toward the university center as part of the settlement, the source said. Other money will go toward, among other things, covering costs stemming from the lawsuit, including legal fees, the source said.
Hunter scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to announce a “breaking development” in the lawsuit. A spokesman for Hunter declined to comment while a lawyer for Purdue did not respond to a request for comment.
Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue has been exploring filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to address potential liabilities stemming from the lawsuits, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
Companies facing mounting litigation often consider a bankruptcy filing to halt lawsuits and negotiate with plaintiffs in one federal court proceeding.
Purdue had weighed seeking bankruptcy protection before the May 28 Oklahoma trial, and will now turn to attempting to reach a far-reaching settlement with state attorneys general and other plaintiffs across the United States accusing it of helping fuel the opioid crisis, one of the sources said.
The company is still considering a Chapter 11 filing to negotiate such a settlement under the supervision of a U.S. bankruptcy judge, the source said.
‘START OF THE DOMINOES FALLING’
Of roughly 2,000 lawsuits nationally, more than 1,600 are in federal court and the rest are in state courts.
The 1,600 federal lawsuits were consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio, who has pushed for a settlement ahead of a trial in October. Purdue will likely attempt to finalize any decisions related to a settlement and a bankruptcy filing before that court date, one of the sources said.
Purdue’s settlement with Oklahoma relieves the immediate pressure on the drugmaker for a bankruptcy filing, said Alexandra Lahav, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She said the company likely was also in talks with others to settle.
“This may be the start of the dominoes falling for Purdue,” Lahav said.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were involved in a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have often compared the cases against Purdue to widespread lawsuits against the tobacco industry that resulted in a $246 billion settlement in 1998.
Paul Hanly, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the federal opioid litigation, said they are “hopeful that the Oklahoma settlement is the beginning of a good-faith program on the part of Purdue to settle all of the nationwide litigation.”
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Mike Spector in New York; Additional reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Bill Trott and Bill Berkrot