OxyContin creator considers bankruptcy as lawsuits grow amid national opioid crisis

Purdue Pharma, the company that’s earned billions of dollars selling the prescription painkiller OxyContin, said Wednesday it’s considering filing for bankruptcy as it battles lawsuits aimed at holding the firm accountable for the national opioid crisis.

“As the company has stated, it is exploring and preparing for any number of eventualities and options, given the amount of litigation the company currently faces,” Purdue spokesperson Robert Johnson told The Associated Press.

Hundreds of local and state governments have sued Purdue and other drug makers and distributors, claiming they are responsible for the national opioid crisis for the way they allegedly deceptively and aggressively market their products. If Purdue files for bankruptcy, a federal litigation judge could decide if cases involving other companies can move ahead, while Purdue is handled separately.

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Purdue President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Landau told The Washington Post the company has not definitively decided on bankruptcy, but, considering the impact of legal settlements or jury verdicts could cost Purdue Pharma billions of dollars, it is heavily weighing the option.

“We are considering it, but we’ve really made no decisions on what course of actions to pursue. A lot depends on what unfolds in the weeks and months ahead,” Landau said.

Since OxyContin’s release in 1996, addiction and overdoses increased dramatically, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. In 2017, nearly 48,000 opioid-related deaths were cited. It wasn’t exactly clear how many specifically stemmed from OxyContin usage.

Even though Purdue products are only a portion of opioids prescribed, documents from the Massachusetts state attorney general suggest, in an effort to hike drug sales, Purdue misled doctors who were reluctant to prescribe strong painkillers to their patients. Purdue, she claimed, disregarded safety and addiction and convinced doctors their drugs were safe in order to increase profit margins at the expense of patients addicted to their products.

Purdue is the primary defendant in a trial on May 28 against the state of Oklahoma. The prosecution could seek more than $1 billion from drug companies, according to The Post.

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Prosecutors consolidated most of the lawsuits in a Cleveland federal court where ongoing settlement talks continue before two scheduled trials this fall but bankruptcy hearings would likely halt the legal process for Purdue.

Purdue Pharma is privately owned by the Sackler family, which hired an executive and a consulting team that has experience restructuring companies during legal and financial crises. Court records in Massachusetts reveal the family received more than $4 billion from Purdue from 2007 to 2018.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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