Posted on Oct 23, 2020, 3 p.m.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin has agreed to pay an $8 billion settlement for its role in the opioid crisis as some states argue against a plan to create a government-controlled company out of the Purdue asset and to continue sales of OxyContin.
During a press conference, the US Department of Justice announced that Purdue agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay over $8.3 billion in fines, additionally, members of the Slacker family who own the company will be required to pay additional fines for civil settlements.
This settlement is suggested to resolve the federal government's civil case against the company which filed for bankruptcy during the fall of 2019. But according to the US deputy attorney general the resolution “does not prohibit future criminal or civil penalties against Purdue Pharma’s executives or employees.”
The terms of the settlement state that the company admits to felony charges including the payment of kickbacks to “induce and reward prescriptions” of which ultimately public health programs often covered the costs of these addicting drugs.
The company is accused of aggressively marketing the opioid even though they were aware that OxyContin/Oxycodone was highly addictive and killing many of those using it. Such tactics are believed to have fueled the public health crisis in America that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and opioid dependence of people of all ages and walks of life.
The CDC estimates that almost 450,000 people died from overdoses involving any opioid between 1999-2018. Some argue that the settlement doesn’t come close to making up for the trail of destruction that the opioid crisis has created and left behind.
“The bottom line is that the settlement does not represent or account for the sheer devastation of the opioid epidemic,” says Robert Glatter, MD, a physician in the department of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “The $8 billion settlement is a fraction of the trillions of dollars of personal and economic devastation resulting from the ravages of opioid addiction.”
Purdue Pharma’s assets would be “owned by a trust for the benefit of the American public” to form a new company that could still manufacture opioid drugs, as well as medications designed to treat and respond to addiction and overdoses, as a part of the settlement terms. It has been reported that future earnings from a public benefit company could go towards paying fines and penalties from the company which could in turn be used to fight the opioid crisis.
However, some states are speaking out against these terms, saying that “Preserving Purdue’s ability to continue selling opioids as a public benefit corporation is simply unacceptable,” said Attorney General William Tong of Connecticut in a statement. “This settlement provides a mere mirage of justice for the victims of Purdue’s callous misconduct. The federal government had the power here to put the Sacklers in jail, and they didn’t.”
Letitia James who is the attorney general of New York adds that the agreement “allows billionaires to keep their billions without any accounting for how much they really made.”
According to Harshal Kirane, MD, who is the medical director of the Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research in New York, funds from such a large settlement should be directed towards education, prevention, direct treatment efforts and sustaining recovery. “Calling a company to task like this will hopefully ensure more accountability and regulatory oversight of how potentially habit-forming medications are marketed by pharmaceutical companies,” says Dr. Kirane. “I’m apprehensive how any settlement funds will be used, but I hope the case will raise a public conversation about how funds can be used in the most effective way possible to help people today and in the future.”
Glatter points out that the decision and settlement will not put an end to the opioid crisis, and there is still a long road ahead in the battle. “By no means is the opiate crisis over,” he says. “The pandemic has magnified this crisis many times over, and the loss of jobs and income combined with displacement of families due to housing issues continues to deepen the effects of the crisis.”
Materials provided by:
Content may be edited for style and length.
This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.