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Purdue Pharma is said to approach states, proposing settlement of opioid claims

    Oxycontin bottle on pharmacy shelf. (Dreamstime/TNS)
    Nov 17, 2017 at 7:03 pm 

    WILMINGTON, Del. — Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma is proposing a settlement in an attempt to end state investigations and lawsuits over the U.S. opioid epidemic, according to people familiar with the talks.

    Purdue’s lawyers raised the prospect with several southern state attorneys general who haven’t sued the company, as they try to gauge interest for a wide-ranging deal, said four people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    Opioid makers are accused of creating a public health crisis through their marketing of the painkillers. More than a dozen states and about 100 counties and cities have sued Purdue, other opioid makers and drug distributors, in a strategy echoing the litigation that led to the 1998 $246 billion settlement with tobacco companies.

    A group of 41 attorneys general is also investigating how companies like Purdue and other opioid makers marketed and sold prescription opioids. It’s not clear whether Purdue’s lawyers are authorized to speak for other drugmakers being sues, but the people familiar with the talks say Purdue’s attorneys are looking for an agreement to include all U.S. states’ claims against all manufacturers.

    Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson spokesman, declined to comment on the settlement discussions. The company said earlier that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Oxycontin for use as a painkiller, and approved the safety warnings. Cases focusing on opioids are targeting a government-regulated product, the company said. That means judges must defer to the FDA’s finding that the painkillers are safe and effective, and that Purdue properly disclosed addiction risks on its warning label, according to the company’s filing.

    Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue hired Sheila Birnbaum, a veteran mass-tort defense lawyer, to help guide their legal strategy and put together a settlement plan, two of the people said. She’s a partner with New York’s Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

    Nicknamed the “Queen of Torts,” Birnbaum helped negotiate big-dollar settlements in the past, including lawsuits against Pfizer over its hormone-replacement drugs and the $765 million NFL concussion settlement. She also oversaw a $2.8 billion fund set up to compensate first responders and residents after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

    Birnbaum didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    Any settlement would likely include cash and changes to the company’s manufacturing and marketing practices, the people said. It would resolve only the state claims, they said.

    Governments could use their shares of settlement funds to recover the costs of increasing policing and drug-treatment programs in recent years.

    More than 60,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, and overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids rose from 3,105 in 2013 to about 20,000 in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    While opioid makers are floating settlement proposals, they are also calling on the federal courts to consolidate all opioid claims before a single judge. A hearing on the request is scheduled for Nov. 30 in St. Louis.

    The companies and some plaintiffs’ lawyers are asking that opioid suits filed by states, counties and cities be combined for information exchanges and test trials. The consolidation is intended to save money by streamlining document exchanges and avoiding duplication

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