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Purdue reaches tentative opioid settlement

HARTFORD, Conn. — OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma reached a tentative deal Wednesday with about half the states and thousands of local governments over its role in the nation's deadly opioid epidemic, but criticism by several state attorneys general clouded prospects for an end to litigation against the company and the family that owns it.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the agreement included more money from the Sackler family, which had become a sticking point during the recent talks.

"Talks are progressing rapidly, but this is the quickest and surest way to get immediate relief for Arizona and for the communities that have been harmed by the opioid crisis and the actions of the Sackler family," Brnovich told The Associated Press.

Sources with direct knowledge of the talks say that Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue will pay up to $12 billion over time and that the Sackler family will give up control of the company. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Paul Farrell, an attorney for several local governments, said in a text message to the AP that some 2,000 governments have agreed to a deal that has been on the table for several weeks.

Farrell, when reached by phone by HD Media, said those 2,000 local governments include several cities and counties in West Virginia. Those local governments also have an option of not taking the deal, he said.

"Purdue is a private company and the owners, the Sackler family, have taken all of the profits and moved them into trusts over in Europe," Farrell said.

It will be up to each individual city and county to decide whether to pursue additional assets moved overseas, he said. Pursuing more money won't forfeit a local government's right to accept the deal, but could jeopardize its place in the line of creditors, he said.

The next step will see Purdue Pharma formally filing for bankruptcy and its assets distributed among those creditors. Farrell said he and his co-counsels

will advise the 2,000 cities and counties whether or not they should formally accept the deal.

The proposed settlement will also not affect other pending lawsuits against approximately 16 other Fortune 500 companies involved in the opioid trade, including Johnson & Johnson, Cardinal Health and pharmacy chain Walgreens.

"In essence, Purdue Pharma has waved a white flag and is surrendering," Farrell said. "This is the closing chapter on the story of Purdue Pharma."

Among those 2,000 local governments joined onto the lawsuit are the city of Huntington and Cabell, Kanawha, Boone, Mingo, Logan, Wayne, Fayette and Wyoming counties.

Even with Wednesday's development, roughly half the states had not signed on, and several state attorneys general vowed to continue their legal battles against the company and the Sacklers. Roughly 20 states have sued the Sacklers in state court.

New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut were among the states saying they were not part of the agreement.

"Our position remains firm and unchanged, and nothing for us has changed today," Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. "The scope and scale of the pain, death and destruction that Purdue and the Sacklers have caused far exceeds anything that has been offered thus far. Connecticut's focus is on the victims and their families, and holding Purdue and the Sacklers accountable for the crisis they have caused."

He said the state would continue to pursue Purdue if it files for bankruptcy under the settlement agreement, as expected.

New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Sacklers of "attempting to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis."

"A deal that doesn't account for the depth of pain and destruction caused by Purdue and the Sacklers is an insult, plain and simple," James said in a statement. "As attorney general, I will continue to seek justice for victims and fight to hold bad actors accountable, no matter how powerful they may be."

News of the tentative agreement comes as the first federal trial date draws near in the hundreds of lawsuits aiming to hold Purdue and others in the drug industry accountable for a nationwide opioid crisis.

The lawsuits assert that Purdue aggressively sold OxyContin as a drug with a low risk of addiction despite knowing that wasn't true.

In court filings, Purdue has pointed out that its products were approved by federal regulators and prescribed by doctors.

In March, Purdue and members of the Sackler family reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma to avoid a trial on the toll of opioids there.

A court filing made public in Massachusetts this year asserts that members of the Sackler family were paid more than $4 billion by Purdue from 2007 to 2018.

Much of the family's fortune is believed to be held outside the U.S., which could complicate lawsuits against the family over opioids.

The Sacklers have given money to cultural institutions around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and London's Tate Modern.

Sept. 11 attacks remembered with reverence, education
Patriot Day observances share stories 18 years later

HUNTINGTON — None of the students at Our Lady of Fatima Parish School was alive 18 years ago — and some of the teachers were students themselves — but those facts don't detract from the gravity of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

The school's fourth-grade class field trip to the Healing Field at Spring Hill Cemetery on Wednesday was therefore as much about education as it was a solemn observance. With more than 3,000 flags planted along the hillside — representing victims of the Sept. 11 attacks — the trip helped young students visualize the scale of the lives lost that day.

"Field trips like this are a way to educate our students about our country's history and the great loss our nation has endured," Principal Micah O'Connor said.

Students were also taught to keep in perspective how many of those lives lost were by those who sacrificed themselves in the line of duty that day, and how the nation united around a single cause following the national tragedy. Of the nearly 3,000 victims killed that day, 343 firefighters were among the dead, as well as 72 law enforcement officers.

With those born in the immediate aftermath of the attack now reaching legal adulthood, educating the youth was the framework plea of Tom Bowen's speech during Huntington's Patriot Day celebration later that evening at the cemetery.

Bowen, of Huntington, volunteered as a firefighter at Ground Zero in those first chaotic days, sifting through debris and recovering bodies as they appeared. Bowen has since helped secure the cemetery's Sept. 11 artifact memorial — built from rail lines twisted between the towers — as well as a truckload of other artifacts from the site, including office supplies, warped file cabinets and other documents from the World Trade Center.

Those pieces of history are presented to students as mementos of what happened not so long ago. Bowen stressed that the unity the United States rallied around back then is equally applicable, and necessary, for the present day.

"We can't keep pointing to the things that separate and divide us. We've got to recognize the things that unite us," Bowen said.

But nobody at Wednesday night's ceremony had a Sept. 11 story like Sara Grigsby, a West Virginia native and current resident who was visiting the World Trade Center that morning on a road trip with friends. Then 23 years old and originally scheduled to leave New York on Sept. 10, Grigsby was there when the planes hit and was caught up in the barrage of debris when the first tower collapsed.

"I can tell you that fate is real, and it is life-changing," Grigsby said.

In the cloud of dust, she couldn't hear or feel anything. The only reminder that she was still alive, she explained, was that she was gasping and choking for air. The last thing she remembered before leaving the city was a New York Police officer grabbing her by the shoulder before she blacked out.

Like thousands of others, Grigsby's Sept. 11 story didn't end there. She's since developed several cancers and lung diseases directly related to the collapse, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There's a piece of me still lost in Manhattan, and I don't think I'll ever get her back," Grigsby said.

Nonetheless, she, like Bowen, pleaded for adults to continue teaching children about what happened that day.

The Healing Field at Spring Hill Cemetery has become an annual tradition organized each September by the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District. The project is not limited to the Sept. 11 attacks, but also recognizes those lost in the 1970 Marshall University plane crash with 75 flags.

The flags that make up the field are purchased for $35 each, with proceeds benefiting the Spring Hill Cemetery Memorial Bell Tower Fund. The Healing Field will remain up through Thursday, Sept. 12.

Land sale finalized for MU baseball stadium

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University has completed the purchase of the Flint Group Pigments property in Huntington, located between 3rd and 5th avenues, from the Huntington Municipal Development Authority, Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick announced Wednesday.

The land will be used to construct the Thundering Herd's new baseball stadium, which is set to open in Huntington in March 2021.

Wednesday's announcement also marked the official beginning of Herd Rises, a $22 million fundraising effort to make the stadium a reality, according to the athletic department.

Construction is set to begin in March, with possible groundbreaking next month.

"This is the final step to move forward with an initiative that is long overdue," Hamrick said in a release. "I want to thank Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, Marshall President Dr. Jerry Gilbert and HMDA for their support along the way. Now the hard part starts. I challenge all of our loyal Marshall fans to step up and help us bring this dream to fruition."

Gilbert said he was elated by the purchase.

"The promise of a baseball stadium for Marshall University is becoming reality," he said. "Thank you to Mayor Steve Williams and the city of Huntington, and to Mike Hamrick and all our loyal donors who will make this possible. Now that we've completed this crucial first step and have the land, let's build a baseball stadium!"

During an Aug. 12 meeting, members of HMDA agreed to sell the former Flint Group Pigments property to Marshall University for $468,000, which includes costs for environmental consultants.

Hamrick said the location is exactly where they wanted it to be.

"The plans are to finish up the construction documents in the next couple of months, put it out to bid in December and hopefully everything comes back the way we want it to," Hamrick told The Herald-Dispatch. "If everything comes back the way we hope it does, we will hopefully have some construction starting in the spring."

The old Flint Group Pigments property, which consisted of a warehouse and parking lot, was purchased by HMDA in February for $750,000. This is part of a larger plan to redevelop underused industrial properties in the city's Highlawn neighborhood.

That purchase was made possible with $500,000 won by Huntington in the 2017 America's Best Communities competition and the remaining $250,000 from HMDA.

"This is another step in an exciting path that will lead us to hearing the crack of a bat in the middle of town," Williams said. "Marshall University is the heartbeat of our city, and I am personally thrilled to be in a position to see that the promise made 50 years ago to Coach Jack Cook comes to fruition. Marshall and the city of Huntington are one team."

Marshall currently plays at George T. Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center on W.Va. 2, about seven miles from campus.

For the past 13 seasons, the Thundering Herd played Conference USA home games at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley.

The university has already had some financial commitments made for the stadium. In July, OVP Health pledged $250,000 toward the stadium.

"A mid-major college needs a baseball stadium on campus that the community can support and take part in," said Stacey Shy, CEO of OVP Health, when the announcement was made.

Development of the Flint Group Pigments property was a key component to remake that area and surrounding properties into the Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone, or H-BIZ.

This was a major part of a plan Huntington leaders submitted to the America's Best Communities competition, winning a $3 million grand prize in April 2017 to help make it a reality.

During a Huntington Municipal Development Authority meeting in June, members approved the purchase of the neighboring ACF Industries complex for $3.12 million. There have been discussions to build a hotel and manufacturing possibilities at the site, which is located along the north and south sides of 3rd Avenue and 24th Street.

There are ongoing negotiations to purchase the former Ohio River Terminals coal dock and rail facility and the long-closed McGinnis Factory. HMDA has an option to purchase the 27-acre former Ingram Barge property along the Ohio River for $1.9 million.

Flint Group Pigments closed its Huntington manufacturing facility in 2017, laying off about 50 workers.

Closure of the plant was a result of the declining demand worldwide of alkali blue, a fairly permanent pigment made from an alkali blue dye that is used chiefly in printing inks, company officials said. Flint Group Pigments is a worldwide supplier to the printing and packaging industry.

"This is the final step to move forward with an initiative that is long overdue."

Mike Hamrick

Marshall director of athletics