Firm said to offer opioid remedy in talks

Posted: September 12, 2018 at 2:03 a.m.

The company that created OxyContin is offering free doses of an opioid-abuse treatment as part of its offer to resolve more than 1,000 lawsuits accusing the drugmaker of helping fuel the opioid crisis, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Purdue Pharma has said it will give away doses of a new version of buprenorphine -- which helps wean opioid-addicted people off the drugs -- as part of any settlement, according to four people familiar with the talks led by state attorneys general and a federal judge. The people asked not to be cited by name as the negotiations are confidential.

The new version of the drug is based on a patent that lists billionaire physician and former Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler as one of six inventors. Sackler's father co-founded Purdue. A spokesman for the company declined to comment on the talks.

It's another sign that opioid-makers and drug wholesalers are looking for an exit from litigation over their alleged roles in a crisis that kills more than 100 Americans daily. Bloomberg News reported last week that Endo International PLC is seeking to resolve all lawsuits over its Opana painkiller to cap its legal exposure and get out of an industrywide settlement.

"I'd have to say this is a pretty clever move," said Richard Ausness, a University of Kentucky law professor. "Over the last 20 years, Purdue hasn't shown any real contrition or remorse, so I see this offer of free step-down drugs as a savvy negotiating tactic to limit what they have to pay in any settlement."

Buprenorphine, first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2002, has been shown to be effective in treating opioid-use disorders. It's available in tablet and film forms, although Sackler's patent references a wafer that could dissolve faster.

Purdue Pharma's offer adds to its efforts to refashion the company as an advocate for addressing the addiction crisis while also fighting back court cases. The company also helped fund distribution of the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone, purchased ads in the press touting its efforts, and pledged $3.4 million to a nonprofit firm developing a cheaper version of naloxone.

More than 49,000 people died from opioid overdoses last year, an increase of almost 7,000 from the previous year. Drugmakers and wholesalers have faced accusations of downplaying the health risks and overselling painkillers' benefits through marketing campaigns. Plaintiffs are seeking to recoup the societal costs of dealing with addictions and overdoses as part of a settlement they hope would be similar to the 1998 tobacco accord that ultimately generated $246 billion.

Alexandra Lahav, a University of Connecticut School of Law professor, said Purdue Pharma's offer might provide treatment options desperately sought by communities and states suing the company, but that it's also likely a tactic to shave off the company's financial contribution to a global settlement and appeal to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the litigation.

Business on 09/12/2018