With little more than a month to go before a trial begins in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) against several opioid manufacturers, privately owned Purdue Pharma LP is continuing its efforts to settle with all the plaintiffs involved.

That's easier said than done, given that the suit, slated for trial Oct. 21 in Cleveland, combines complaints from more than 2,000 U.S. cities and counties, and more than two dozen states and territories.

A ruling last month in a related Oklahoma public nuisance suit against Johnson & Johnson pointed to Purdue, of Stamford, Conn., as opening the door to the opioid epidemic when it expanded its promotion of Oxycontin (oxycodone) to the chronic, noncancer pain population. Purdue paid $270 million to settle the Oklahoma case a few months before it went to trial. (See BioWorld, Aug. 28, 2019.)

While not confirming the $10 billion to $12 billion MDL settlement offer being bandied about in news reports and social media, Purdue said it "continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis."

Connecticut Attorney General (AG) William Tong said no one has offered, to his knowledge $10 billion or $12 billion. However, the Sackler family, Purdue's owners, have offered $3 billion, he said. "The scale of what is the largest public health crisis, at least in my lifetime, isn't met by $3 billion or something approximating that," Tong tweeted Wednesday.

Some state AGs are saying, regardless of what Purdue offers, there will be no justice unless the Sacklers personally contribute more to cover the damage caused by that crisis. "A large number of states are committed to the notion that the Sacklers need to guarantee more money," North Carolina AG Josh Stein said. "We believe they created a mess and must help to clean it up."

To ensure the Sacklers pay, Stein is preparing to sue the family. "The Sackler family has extracted billions of dollars from Purdue since 2007 and they've made billions more from the overseas businesses in their opioid empire," Stein said. "I allege that these people are among the most responsible for the trail of death and destruction the opioid epidemic has left in its wake."

New York AG Letitia James expressed similar sentiments. "While our country continues to recover from the carnage left by the Sacklers' greed, this family is now attempting to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis," she said. "A deal that doesn't account for the depth of pain and destruction caused by Purdue and the Sacklers is an insult, plain and simple."

Citing figures from the CDC, Simmons Hanly Conroy, a lead law firm for some of the plaintiffs in the MDL, said the annual economic burden of prescription opioid abuse in the U.S. is about $78.4 billion. Lost productivity accounts for the biggest share of that, with less than 4% – $2.8 billion – going for substance abuse treatment.

Quota reductions

In related news, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing to reduce the amount of five Schedule II opioid controlled substances that can be manufactured in the U.S. next year. Under the proposal, the amount of fentanyl produced would be reduced by 31%, hydrocodone by 19%, hydromorphone by 25%, oxycodone by 9% and oxymorphone by 55%.

Combined with morphine, the proposed quota would be a 53% decrease in the amount of allowable production of those opioids since 2016, according to the DEA. The reductions are based on the agency's estimates of the amount of diversion of the substances in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the DEA is proposing to increase the amount of marijuana that can be produced for research in the U.S. by almost a third over this year's level – from 2,450 kg to 3,200 kg. That's almost triple what it was in 2018.

Comments on the proposed quota are due by Oct. 10.

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