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Oklahoma AG pledges to work with lawmakers on future settlements

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Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks about a $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma for opioid abuse in the state Tuesday. [MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World]
Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks about a $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma for opioid abuse in the state Tuesday. [MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World]

Oklahoma's $270 million settlement with Purdue drug companies was made under unique circumstances, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Thursday. He pledged that the governor and state lawmakers will be given much more say in the distribution of any future settlements or judgments involving other opioid manufacturers.

Hunter made his comments after some lawmakers openly grumbled about not having input in how the $270 million from Purdue would be spent.

"The AG wasn’t elected to appropriate the people’s money and this action should concern all Oklahomans," state Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, said in one tweet. "Appropriating money is the Constitutional obligation of the legislature. #SeparationOfPowers."

Hunter said he understood the concern.

"I don't blame legislators for having raised eyebrows about this," Hunter said of the agreement with Purdue, which calls for the lion's share of the money — $197.5 million − to go to the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery to help make it a national center for the study, treatment and prevention of addiction.

Hunter said the settlement was unique because Purdue had been threatening to declare bankruptcy, creating uncertainty that could have forced a delay of the May 28 trial, which now remains on track for 10 other opioid manufacturers.

Purdue was willing to settle for a significant amount of money, but only if that money were to be used to establish something of national importance, which was achieved by directing nearly $200 million to the OSU Center for Wellness and Recovery, Hunter said. The goal of the OSU center is to establish a national center on addiction modeled after the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, officials said.

"So the options weren't this (agreement) or putting it in the appropriations process," Hunter said. "The options were zero or allowing for an investment to be made in an incredibly promising state asset and growing it into a national asset."

Terms of the agreement, which was converted into a court order, call for the bulk of the money to go into a foundation to support the OSU center, he noted.

"I'm not appropriating anything," he said. "There was an extensive hearing on Tuesday morning where the judge reviewed everything and approved the settlement, so there was a very significant set of checks and balances here."

The other opioid manufacturers that are being sued by Oklahoma are in much better financial shape and are not threatening bankruptcy, so Hunter said he expects the terms of any settlements or allocation of any money obtained through judgments with them to be handled much differently.

"My commitment to the speaker and the pro tem and the governor is that there will be hand in glove involvement by state leaders with regard to any future settlements or judgments," Hunter said. "That's the way it ought to be. That's the way it needs to be. But this was a situation that was complex and unique."

Hunter and the state have been suing opioid manufacturers for fraud, accusing them of causing thousands of Oklahoma overdose deaths and addictions through fraudulent marketing of their painkilling drugs. Attorneys for the state claim the drug companies understated the addictive properties of opioids while overstating their therapeutic benefits.

The state will be seeking billions of dollars in damages from the remaining defendants, he said.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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