Oklahoma reaches $250 million settlement with three companies that distributed opioids

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Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor announced a $250 million settlement on Monday with three companies that distributed opioids in the state, and he said the money will be used to prevent and treat opioid addiction.

The settlement with McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. must be approved by local government leaders in Oklahoma. Attorneys' fees will not be taken out of the $250 million but will be paid separately.

O’Connor announced the settlement a day ahead of his Republican primary contest on Tuesday with Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond.

“Many Oklahoma families have been ravaged and lives have been lost by opioid addictions and overdoses,” O’Connor said. “Money cannot possibly heal those wounds or bring back our loved ones. The funds we are recovering will be used to prevent and treat addictions to opioids.”

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor, shown here during a press conference on June 24, 2022 about abortion, announced a settlement on Saturday with opioid distributors.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor, shown here during a press conference on June 24, 2022 about abortion, announced a settlement on Saturday with opioid distributors.

MORE: Native American tribes in Oklahoma, U.S. reach $590 million opioid settlement

Oklahoma did not join many states in wider settlement that totaled $26 billion

Oklahoma was among a handful of states that did not join a $26 billion settlement resulting from about 3,000 lawsuits filed against the distributors by states and local governments. The distributors also recently announced a $75 million settlement with the Cherokee Nation.

The companies have denied wrongdoing in making the settlements.

In a statement Monday evening, AmerisourceBergen said the agreement reached with Oklahoma was "consistent with Oklahoma’s allocation under the previously announced comprehensive settlement agreement."

The company said, "A settlement will avoid years of protracted litigation, expedite the movement of resources to communities impacted by opioid misuse and allow our company to do what we do best — ensuring that health care facilities like hospitals and community pharmacies have access to the medications that patients and care providers need — ranging from blood pressure medications to chemotherapies to COVID-19 treatments and, as appropriate, prescription pain medications."

The settlement ensures that the funds will be overseen and administered by Oklahoma courts and judges, rather than federal officials in other states, O’Connor’s office said.

O’Connor’s predecessor, Mike Hunter, first sued the three companies collectively in Cleveland County District Court, but withdrew that suit and filed separate suits in 2020 in Bryan County District Court.

The lawsuits sought unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and asked that the companies be ordered to return unjust profits.

“By law, opioid distributors are required to stop suspicious shipments of opioids and report them to law enforcement,” Hunter said in 2020. “These companies ignored their responsibilities because they were making billions of dollars, while Oklahomans, especially those in our rural communities, suffered.”

Oklahoma's settlement will be distributed to cities and counties through Opioid Abatement Fund

Attorneys for Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen responded in court filings that the companies "delivered only what state-licensed pharmacies ordered to fill the prescriptions written by state-licensed doctors.”

More: As Biden administration fights opioid overdoses, harm reduction groups face opposition

Cardinal Health's attorneys stated: "The Cardinal defendants did not have the duty or ability to second-guess the Oklahoma doctors who prescribed those medicines.”

The state previously sued and reached agreements with opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma, for $270 million; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, for $85 million; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, for $8.75 million.

Hunter won a $465 million non-jury verdict in Cleveland County District Court in 2019 against Johnson & Johnson, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court tossed that award in 2021, ruling that the state’s public nuisance law did not cover the fallout from addiction to opioids.

According to O’Connor’s office, the settlement announced Monday represents a higher per-capita recovery amount than many other states, in recognition of the disproportionate impact of opioids on Oklahoma.

Funding for cities and counties will be distributed through an Opioid Abatement Fund that will allocate settlement proceeds to those areas that need help most, the office said.

Note: The story has been updated with a statement from AmerisourceBergen

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma reaches $250 million settlement with opioid distributors