HUNTINGTON — West Virginia has signed onto a tentative settlement reached Wednesday with thousands of local governments and at least 20 states on lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday.
Some state attorneys general have signaled they will not sign onto a proposed settlement so they may raise objections when the company eventually files for bankruptcy. The tentative settlement and expected bankruptcy filing would remove Purdue from the first federal trial over the opioids epidemic, scheduled to begin next month in Cleveland, The Associated Press reported.
Morrisey said the settlement's framework will allow his office to continue discussions with Purdue Pharma and other states about "how we might reach an agreement over the company’s role in advancing the nation’s opioid crisis." West Virginia is joining 27 other states in signing onto the tentative settlement, he said.
“Having a prearranged framework enhances the potential financial recovery West Virginia may realize from its lawsuit, as opposed to the crumbs it could receive through a long, drawn-out, free-fall bankruptcy proceeding that may linger for months or years," Morrisey said in a statement. “This is just a preliminary framework — not a final agreement. I can pull West Virginia from the framework at any time, but the price of not participating in the bankruptcy process now would have cost our office its place to influence a final settlement. This is the best way to protect the state’s interests."
Purdue Pharma and the family that owns it, the Sacklers, reached an agreement Wednesday with thousands of local governments and dozens of states that sued the company for its role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
Under the proposed settlement, the Sackler family agrees to give up control of Purdue, which would file for bankruptcy. About $12 billion would then be available over time to divide among its creditors.
Attorney Paul Farrell, who represents thousands of local governments, including Cabell County and Huntington, said he and his co-counsels are advising whether or not to sign onto the tentative settlement. It's up to each individual city and county, he said. However, Farrell said those who do not sign onto the settlement may jeopardize their place in the line of creditors during the expected bankruptcy.
Morrisey said other attorneys have supported the tentative settlement, including Charleston attorneys Rusty Webb and Anthony Majestro, who separately represent West Virginia cities and counties in the lawsuit.
The AP reported some state attorneys general have indicated they will not sign onto the tentative settlement, including Rhode Island. NBC News reported Wednesday they contacted 38 of the more than 40 state attorneys general who have lawsuits against Purdue. At least 20 of those said they were opposed to the settlement.
Morrisey filed suit against Purdue Pharma and former chief executive Richard Sackler in May. The lawsuit alleges Purdue Pharma created a false narrative to convince prescribers that opioids are not addictive and that its opioid products were safer than they actually were.
The lawsuit said Purdue Pharma proliferated a deceptive marketing strategy with reckless disregard for compliance enforcement. It also alleges company sales representatives routinely claimed that OxyContin had no dose ceiling, despite federal regulators stating that OxyContin’s dose ceiling was made evident by its adverse reactions.
The lawsuit marked West Virginia’s second against Purdue Pharma. The first, filed in 2001, resulted in a $10 million settlement in 2004. That case involved an earlier version of the opioid than the reformulated, so-called tamper-resistant OxyContin that debuted in 2010.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.