Oklahoma officials to announce settlement in opioid case

Oklahoma's attorney general will announce a settlement Tuesday with one of 13 drug manufacturers named in a state lawsuit that accuses them of fuelling the opioid epidemic in the U.S., but the other companies still face what's expected to be the first of numerous state lawsuits to go to trial.

Attorney General Mike Hunter will hold a press conference that will include an "announcement of a settlement agreement with Purdue Pharma," according to a statement from Hunter's office. The lawsuit also names a dozen other opioid manufacturers.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for the attorney general, confirmed Tuesday morning that the settlement with Purdue would be announced later in the day in Tulsa. He declined further comment about the settlement, but said the trial is still scheduled to take place in late May.

The deal represents Purdue's first settlement in hundreds of lawsuits facing the company, which introduced OxyContin more than 20 years ago and marketed the strong prescription painkiller aggressively to doctors. Experts say the tactics helped usher in an era where doctors became more concerned with treating pain and more liberal with opioid prescriptions, a factor in the opioid crisis in the U.S.

The Oklahoma settlement — which could signal that Purdue is ready to strike deals elsewhere — comes after the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from drugmakers to postpone the start of the state's trial.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter in February. Oklahoma sued 13 opioid manufacturers in 2017, alleging they fraudulently engaged in marketing campaigns that led to thousands of overdoses and deaths. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Sandy Coats, an attorney for Bridgeport, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Oklahoma sued 13 opioid manufacturers in 2017, alleging they fraudulently engaged in marketing campaigns that led to thousands of overdoses and deaths. State officials have said that since 2009, more Oklahoma residents have died from opioid-related deaths than in vehicle crashes.

Prescription opioids were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Purdue has become a symbol of the crisis. This month, company officials acknowledged that they were considering legal options, including filing for bankruptcy.

As accusations have mounted about the company's sales strategies, the family that owns the firms, the Sacklers, have also faced personal lawsuits and growing public pressure. A Massachusetts court filing made public earlier this year found that family members were paid at least $ 4 billion from 2007 until last year.

In the past few weeks, the Tate museums in London and the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York have cut ties with the family, which had been a major donor to the museums and other cultural institutions around the world for decades.

A lawyer suing Purdue on behalf of local governments across the country said Tuesday that he welcomes the company's first 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 suiting pharmaceutical industry. "Hopefully, this is the first of many."

Hanly is one of the lead lawyers in group of more than 1,400 federal court cases against pharmaceutical companies consolidated under one judge in Cleveland. The judge, Dan Polster, has been pushing drugmakers and distributors to settle with state and local governments. The first trial in that set of cases is scheduled for October.

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