Oklahoma is not giving up the opioid fight as AG Mike Hunter plans to refile case in state court.
Opioid distributors McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Corp. removed Oklahoma’s case from Cleveland County District Court to a federal court in Oklahoma City. Now, the state’s Attorney General Mike Hunter plans to dismiss the state’s lawsuit refile new lawsuits in state court. Hunter continues to battle despite having reached settlements with Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, and those on the front lines are still waiting for his approval to start spending the funds received.
“We want to hold these three companies accountable to Oklahomans in an Oklahoma courtroom,” Hunter said, adding, “The state will file separate petitions against each company in state court at a later date.”
Hunter won a lawsuit last year against opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, which was ordered to pay $465 million for its role in the opioid crisis. Judge Thad Balkman in Oklahoma agreed with the state that the drug manufacturer contributed to the opioid crisis. Although Oklahoma originally sought to recoup $17 billion to pay for addiction treatment, drug courts, and other related services over the course of the next two decades, the judgment will provide some relief.
“We would have liked to walk out of here with $17 billion, but we’ve been able to put together a billion dollars,” Hunter said at the time, referencing the amount from the Johnson & Johnson judgment and previous settlements with Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals. Both sides have appealed the settlement, hoping for a more favorable outcome.
Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family, also previously agreed to a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma in a lawsuit claiming OxyContin contributed to the opioid epidemic. Following the settlement, in a June 12 letter to an Oklahoma Medicaid official, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it “is aware the state reached the aforementioned $270 million…settlement with the Purdue defendants” and “the federal government is entitled to a portion of that amount.”
Now, a year later, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSUCHS) officials, originally set to receive a total of $197.5 million from the state’s $270 million settlement, are still waiting for Hunter’s approval signaling the funds are ready to be used.
“Honestly, we didn’t know that there would be a settlement. We had no idea,” said Johnny Stephens, chief operating officer of the center, joking, “I wish I could say that we were smart enough to put all this together.”
OSUCHS President Kayse Shrum said, “As we’ve been waiting, we’re doing a lot of work trying to develop the partnerships across the state and develop our technology to be able to deliver virtual care. The first step is going to be focused on treatment, getting help to people and addressing that stigma.”
The center continues to be focused on treating addiction. “We had already made it clear that it was a priority for us,” Shrum said. “We made it an institutional priority in a way that nobody else really had…Addiction medicine is not a glamorous specialty. It’s not high paying. It’s usually a loser financially. So, it really has to be part of your mission.”