The city of Kent is one of about 2,000 local governments impacted by a tentative settlement this week with opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma.
The Kent City Council voted unanimously in March 2018 to join hundreds of other cities across the nation to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors for deceptive marketing practices.
Under the settlement, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, would have to file for a structured bankruptcy and pay as much as $12 billion over time, with about $3 billion coming from the Sackler family that owns the company, according to USA Today.
“I am awaiting more details of the tentative settlement agreement and required next steps,” said City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick in an email. “I believe that Kent will have the opportunity to approve the settlement or opt out, and will have time to consider this decision.”
Kent is a member of the multidistrict litigation group that reached the agreement. The group was formed in an effort to consolidate all of the cases into one court, Fitzpatrick said. The cases were consolidated into the federal court in the Northern District of Ohio.
Fitzpatrick said Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family will be out of the drug business, both in the U.S. and overseas. The settlement will be part of a structured bankruptcy. The Sacklers will pay a minimum of $3 billion to the multi-district litigation group over seven years. More money will be paid if the liquidation of Purdue assets exceeds the $3 billion.
“The manner in which settlement funds will be distributed has yet to be discussed,” Fitzpatrick said. “This will likely be a months-long process.”
In a statement after the Sept. 11 announcement, Purdue Pharma said that it “continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis,” according USA Today.
It could be a while before the council considers whether to agree to the settlement.
“It won’t be for a number of weeks,” Fitzpatrick said. “Due to the complexity of this suit and settlement, it will take some time to iron out the details regarding how the settlement funds will be available to the cities for fighting this epidemic.”
Fitzpatrick explained the reasons the city took legal action.
“Kent joined this lawsuit in an effort to hold accountable pharmaceutical companies and marketers who were responsible for the opioid crisis due to deceptive business practices,” he said. “Purdue Pharma flooded the market with opioids, and based on criminal investigations conducted by the federal government, appears to have engaged in practices akin to a corporate criminal drug enterprise.
“This settlement puts this billion dollar corporation out of business, and should provide some resources for Kent and other involved cities to deal with the catastrophic aftermath.”
When the city decided to sue, Fitzpatrick summarized the reasons.
He said the defendants produced opioid prescription drugs and that 80 percent of those who became addicted to heroin in the past decade started with a prescription to OxyContin or another prescription opioid.
“When their prescriptions ran out and they could no longer get their drug from their doctor, they moved to street heroin – that’s really the foundation of the lawsuit,” Fitzpatrick said.
The city hired the Seattle law firm of Keller Rohrback on a contingency fee basis to file the suit. That means the city will not have to pay any money, but the law firm will get its fee from any settlement in the case.
Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are among the other cities in the state that sued Purdue Pharma.
Opioid addiction has contributed to the deaths of some 400,000 Americans over the past two decades, according to USA Today.
State not part of settlement
Washington is one of more than a dozen states that are not part of the multidistrict litigation group that reached the tentative settlement. The states have filed their own suits against Purdue Pharma.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a tweet that the settlement doesn’t go far enough.
“My goal has always been to hold Purdue and the Sacklers accountable and make them pay for the damage they caused,” Ferguson said. “Importantly, Purdue’s valuation of the reported settlement does not come close to matching ours.
“In addition, this purported settlement does not include an apology to the families and communities devastated by Purdue and the Sacklers’ conduct. In short, the purported settlement does not provide accountability or adequate relief to address the opioid epidemic in Washington state.”