Letter to Ohio Attorney General references probe and talks
Purdue first opioid maker to confirm discussions on lawsuits
Purdue Pharma LP acknowledged in a letter that the maker of the opioid painkiller Oxycontin is in “negotiations’’ with state attorneys general over lawsuits accusing the company of creating a public-health crisis with its mishandling of the drug.
Maria Barton, Purdue’s general counsel, chastised Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for pulling out of a multistate probe of the drugmaker by 41 of his fellow attorneys general. He did so shortly after signing an agreement to preserve his state’s legal claims “while the investigation and negotiations were conducted,’’ according to a copy of the Nov. 28 letter provided by Purdue officials.
Barton’s letter is the first time an opioid maker has disclosed negotiations with state attorneys general who are seeking a big tobacco-style multibillion-dollar payout to cover the costs of burgeoning drug epidemics in their states.
Robert Josephson, a Purdue spokesman, declined to comment on whether the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker is in settlement talks with the attorneys general. Bloomberg News reported on Nov. 17 that the company’s lawyers had been floating proposals for a global settlement of all opioid claims against Purdue and other drugmakers including Johnson & Johnson, Endo international Plc and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, one of the leaders of the multistate probe, declined to comment on the letter Thursday because he said he hadn’t read it.
Separately, Endo officials have accused DeWine of wrongly accusing opioid makers of doing nothing to help address addiction problems caused by their products and making “offensive’’ claims that pharma companies had laid waste to his state.
“Your letter’s assertion that the pharmaceutical industry caused this epidemic is – at best – a stunning oversimplification,’’ Matthew Maletta, the company’s chief legal officer, wrote in a Nov. 28 letter.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine, said Thursday Ohio’s top legal official isn’t “commenting on any of the letters we’ve received in response to the Attorney General’s demand letter.’’
Purdue’s and Endo’s letters came in response to an Oct. 30 missive DeWine sent to makers and distributors of opioid painkillers demanding they begin settlement talks within 30 days. DeWine, a Republican who is running for governor, sent the letter as part of a plan to combat opioid abuse in his drug-ravaged state.
More than 60,000 people died in the U.S. from overdoses in 2016, and there was a five-fold increase in such deaths involving synthetic opioids — from 3,105 in 2013 to about 20,000 in 2016, according to federal researchers.
A study in the October 2016 issue of Medical Care Journal put the economic cost of opioid overdose, abuse and dependence at $78.5 billion. Health care accounts for about one-third of the cost, while lost productivity in nonfatal cases add another $20 billion, according to the journal published by Wolters Kluwer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 145 Americans die daily from opioid overdoses. The epidemic cost the American economy $504 billion in 2015, which was the equivalent of 2.8 percent of gross domestic product that year, according to a report this month by the Council of Economic Advisers.
In Purdue’s letter, Barton thanked DeWine for inviting the company to help address addiction problems in Ohio. “As you know, we have been working on an expedited basis with more than 30 state attorneys general as part of a bipartisan multistate process to resolve serious issues,’’ Barton said.
Barton urged DeWine to rejoin the multistate investigation by his fellow attorneys general so the state wouldn’t have to share any recovery with outside plaintiff lawyers it hired to press its case.
“It is uncontroversial that the multistate process is the best and fastest way for states to get resources to address this crisis,’’ Barton wrote.
While the companies jousted with DeWine, they also asked a panel of federal judges in St. Louis Thursday to gather all opioid suits in one federal court.
Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and some lawyers for cities and counties that have sued want the more than 60 lawsuits filed so far in federal courts across the country to be combined for information exchanges and test trials. The consolidation is intended to save money by avoiding duplication.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance of Louisiana, a member of the five-judge panel, warned lawyers for states and local governments that they’d face “serious’’ legal hurdles that could derail their bid for a multibillion-dollar payout.
“There are serious threshold issues when it comes to whether these governmental entities can sue for these damages,’’ Vance told lawyers arguing the cases should be consolidated in federal courts in West Virginia, Ohio or Illinois.
The case is In Re: National Prescription Opioid Litigation, MDL NO. 2804, Before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (St. Louis).
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