Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and its owners, the Sackler family, reports The New York Times, agreed to pay $270 million to avoid going to a state court trial over the company’s role in the opioid addiction epidemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans over the past two decades. The payment, negotiated to settle a case brought by the state of Oklahoma, was far larger than two previous settlements Purdue Pharma had reached with other states. It could jolt other settlement talks with the company, including those in a consolidated collection of 1600 cases overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland. “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,” said Abbe R. Gluck, a professor at Yale Law School who directs the Solomon Center for Health Policy and Law.
In another story, The Washington Post writes that facing rejection from three major art museums, the philanthropic trust of the Sackler family, which built its wealth from Purdue’s sale of opioids, announced that it would stop making donations. “I remain fully committed to all the causes the Sackler Trust supports, but at this moment it is the better course for the trust to halt all new giving until we can be confident that it will not be a distraction for institutions that are applying for grants,” Theresa Sackler, chairwoman of the trust, said in a statement on its website. The decision by many nonprofits to stop accepting Sackler donations may contribute to a de-normalization of the marketing practices of big pharmaceutical companies, a change that could set the stage for stronger public health regulation of these practices.
OxyContin is a dying business in America. With the nation in the grip of an opioid epidemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives, the U.S. medical establishment is turning away from painkillers. Top health officials are discouraging primary care doctors from prescribing them for chronic pain, saying there is no proof they work long-term and substantial evidence they put patients at risk. Prescriptions for OxyContin have fallen nearly 40% since 2010, meaning billions in lost revenue for its Connecticut manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. So the company’s owners, the Sackler family, are pursuing a new strategy: Put the painkiller that set off the U .S. opioid crisis into medicine cabinets around the world. This report is the third in a three part series in which the Los Angeles Times explores the role of OxyContin in the nation’s opioid epidemic. In another post, the journalists who reported the story describe their investigatory methods.
A two-part series by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity investigated the influence of pharmaceutical companies on state and federal policies regarding opioids, the powerful painkillers that have claimed the lives of 165,000 people in the U.S. since 2000. Reporters tracked proposed laws on the subject and analyzed data on how the companies and their allies deployed lobbyists and contributed to political campaigns.