The maker of OxyContin could pay as much as $12 billion spread over time between 2,000 municipalities nationwide, including Columbia and Marion County, as part of a tentative settlement announced Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
Purdue Pharma would file for a structured bankruptcy under the plan, and the Sackler family that owns the opioid maker would have to give up control of the company and contribute about $3 billion, the AP reported.
Both the Columbia Board of Aldermen and Marion County Board of Supervisors joined in last year when they authorized the McHugh Fuller Law Group in Hattiesburg to sue on their behalf.
The lawsuits detail the history of synthetic opioid painkillers dating to the 1990s and what they allege are sales practices that sought increased profits by knowingly fueling addictions. The lawsuits say that the damages suffered by the municipalities include costs for providing medical care and rehabilitation services for drug addicts; caring for infants born with opioid-related medical conditions and children whose parents are addicts; and increased law enforcement costs relating to the opioid epidemic.
Thousands of other municipalities filed similar lawsuits, and they were consolidated under one federal judge in Ohio, Dan Polster. The first trial in the case was scheduled to begin next month in Ohio, which put pressure to reach a settlement quickly.
The AP said it’s not clear how any money from the settlement would be divided between the entities.
Also, the settlement is not final and could change drastically before reaching its ultimate form. The possible deal between the municipalities and Purdue Pharma was brokered by attorneys general from some states, but other states want to continue fighting to try and force the company to pay more.
The states and municipalities should be content with what they’ve received so far, which essentially deals a death blow to Purdue Pharma and forces its private owners to personally pay up. That’s more than enough considering that, although certainly the makers of opioids bear some of the responsibility, people who abused those products also have some of the burden, too.
The abuse of synthetic opioid painkillers by some people to get high has resulted in restricting their use for the law-abiding users who had valid prescriptions and used the recommended amounts to control pain, for which these drugs are remarkably effective. That’s why moderation is needed when reaching a settlement.
Certainly, the drug-makers are not guiltless. Morphine — which is a natural opioid — has long been heavily restricted because its addictive properties are so well known. The pharmaceutical companies came up with a way to make painkillers in the lab that were just as effective, but the problem was that the scientific way by which an opioid relieves pain is the same whether natural or synthetic and that’s the same mechanism that makes them so addictive. Yet the companies pushed OxyContin and other drugs like it as safe alternatives to morphine, leading to the huge public health crisis, even though they clearly knew how addictive the painkillers are. They bear some guilt and should pay up as a result. Municipalities like Columbia and Marion County incur huge costs in policing opioid use and should receive part of the settlement. The sooner the case is settled, the better equipped they’ll be to fight the problems caused by opioids.