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Oklahoma Attorney General On Purdue Pharma Settlement


Oklahoma has become the front line in the legal battle over the nation's opioid crisis. Two years ago, that state's attorney general sued several companies, including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The suit alleges that Purdue helped create the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing OxyContin and deceptively downplaying the drug's addiction qualities. Now Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, have agreed to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma. It's the first of more than 1,600 lawsuits pending against Purdue Pharma. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the settlement Tuesday, and he joins us now.

Attorney General, thanks for being here.

MIKE HUNTER: Good morning. It's good to be with y'all.

MARTIN: What difference is this going to make to the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma?

HUNTER: Well, it's going to make a profound difference, not only to people in our state but to citizens of the United States. The opportunity we have to establish a national center for addiction treatment, recovery and research is a great opportunity to, in a centralized, focused way, bring all the research, bring all the science into one place to ensure that the rehabilitation services that are going to be deployed to deal with the fallout of this epidemic are cutting-edge and are fashioned in a way to ensure that we're getting people over their addiction illness.

MARTIN: We should just say that's where the money's going, right? Purdue has agreed in this settlement to pay $270 million, and you're saying the state's going to use that to build this treatment and rehab facility.

HUNTER: Yeah. The great majority of that money is to endow and fund the Oklahoma State University health and wellness program. They already have a significant, we think, national footprint that just needs to be turbocharged, again, in order not only to deal with the issues of folks here in Oklahoma, but it's going to be a national center.

MARTIN: But may I ask - there will be some out there who might look at that settlement and say, did Purdue Pharma just pay its way out of its responsibility in igniting the opioid crisis in this country?

HUNTER: I don't think that's accurate. Another part of the settlement is we have injunctive relief for the state that is going to prohibit Purdue from promoting analgesic opioids in the state. That was an important consideration. And that is directly focused on stemming the oversupply of opioid pharmaceuticals into the state. We still have three other defendants in this lawsuit. Again, our approach is to deal with the consequences of oversupply and the addiction that is a consequence of all this. So at the end of the day, we've been able to obtain what we think is funding that will create something that will be there into perpetuity to ensure that the best addiction science is being deployed to deal with the consequences of the epidemic.

MARTIN: But Purdue Pharma is not going to suffer any further punitive consequences.

HUNTER: Well, this isn't a criminal proceeding. I mean, this is a civil action that's intended to redress the damages that we feel the state and the people of the state have suffered. I mean, there are - there is a multi-state litigation underway. There are other individual states that are proceeding. So we had to make a decision, again, based on Purdue in a public way, modeling whether bankruptcy is an option for them. We had to make a decision as to whether or not it made sense to do the best we could given their ability to repay and given the possibility - strong possibility - that they would declare bankruptcy before our lawsuit and, you know, really scuttle our ability to get that suit tried on May 28 of this year. So it was a complicated process, complicated negotiations. But I'm confident it's in the best interest of the state and the country.

MARTIN: The attorney general for the state of Oklahoma, Mike Hunter.

Thank you so much for your time this morning, sir. We appreciate it.

HUNTER: Sure. Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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