Oklahoma, Teva Pharmaceuticals Reach $85 Million Settlement in Opioid Case

(The Washington Post) —
Israeli drug company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state of Oklahoma settled Sunday with another drug company over its role in the deadly opioid epidemic, reaching an $85 million agreement with Teva Pharmaceuticals just two days before a landmark trial is scheduled to begin.

The deal leaves Oklahoma squared off Tuesday against Johnson & Johnson, one of the nation’s large pharmaceutical companies, in the first state trial over culpability for the drug crisis. Opioid overdoses have taken thousands of lives in the sparsely populated state, and more than 400,000 nation-wide between 1999 and 2017.

In March, the state settled out of court with Purdue Pharma, the third defendant in the 2017 lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mike Hunter. The manufacturer of OxyContin, which agreed to pay $270 million toward treatment of substance abusers and research on the epidemic, is widely seen as the central character in the crisis.

Hunter and Teva announced the settlement Sunday morning. Details are still being worked out, but the one-time payment will go to the state. Some Oklahoma legislators had complained that they were bypassed in the Purdue settlement, which earmarked most of the money for a treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University.

“Nearly all Oklahomans have been negatively impacted by this deadly crisis and we look forward to Tuesday where we will prove our case against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries,” Hunter said in a statement released by his office.

Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli-based company that primarily develops and sells generic drugs, issued a statement saying the settlement does not establish any wrongdoing on its part. It said Teva “has not contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.”

The state alleges that Johnson & Johnson has been a behind-the-scenes kingpin in the epidemic, through its role in providing the narcotic ingredients for much of the U.S. prescription opioid supply.

A spokesman for the conglomerate did not respond to a request for comment on whether the company still planned to go to trial Tuesday.

More than 40 other states have filed lawsuits against a wide variety of drug companies, seeking compensation for medical, law enforcement and treatment-related costs of the more than two-decade old epidemic. Another 1,600 cities, counties, Native American tribes and other groups have also filed lawsuits that have been consolidated in an enormous case in federal court in Ohio.

Teva said that “while the company has long stated that the courtroom is not a place to address the crisis, Teva is pleased to put the Oklahoma case behind it and remains prepared to vigorously defend claims against the company,” including the federal cases.

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