On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, the attorney general for the State of Oklahoma announced that the state had reached a settlement in a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, for $275 million. Purdue Pharma is the maker of the opioid Oxycontin. Oklahoma and other states including Arkansas have sued Purdue Pharma and other drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, claiming that the public was misled about the potency and addictive qualities of opioids.
The settlement, which is the largest of three settlements by Purdue Pharma with states thus far, was notable for its dedication of more than $100 million to fund a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. It is critical that settlement proceeds from opioid litigation are dedicated to actions that address the extensive harm that has resulted from the opioid epidemic.
Arkansas has a commendable history in using settlement proceeds for health-related activities. In 2000, Arkansas voters approved a referendum to invest all of the state’s share of a multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement in health-related programs to prevent and reduce smoking, improve access to medical care, and strengthen health education and research. As states race to enter into settlements with Purdue Pharma with the knowledge that bankruptcy filings are likely, Arkansas and other states should follow the model of Oklahoma ― and, previously, Arkansas with tobacco settlement proceeds ― to ensure that all proceeds are dedicated to health-related programs that will lead to the prevention and reduction of substance abuse, access to substance abuse services, and more robust substance abuse education and research.