HELENA — Montana has been having settlement discussions in its lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, but state officials Wednesday declined to elaborate, saying the talks are confidential.
National news outlets reported this week that Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, is negotiating a multibillion-dollar settlement with local and state governments to resolve about 2,000 lawsuits against the company.
Purdue and its owners are accused of helping fuel the opioid-addiction crisis in the country and many states, by falsely marketing the highly addictive painkiller as safe for treating chronic pain.
The settlement talks, according to NBC News and the Washington Post, involve a consolidated lawsuit in federal court in Ohio that has 2,000 plaintiffs.
Montana is not part of that lawsuit, electing in late 2017 to file its own lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in state District Court in Helena.
Montana’s lawsuit says Purdue “falsely claimed that opioids could be prescribed by doctors and used as a first-line, long-term treatment for patients with chronic pain, without a material risk of addiction.”
“The (opioid crisis in Montana) began not with an outbreak, but with a business plan,” the suit said in its amended filing in January 2018. “It is the result of a corporate decision by Purdue Pharma and the related corporate entities named in this lawsuit, to promote opioids deceptively. …”
The Montana suit seeks a variety of damages from and civil penalties against Purdue Pharma. The suit is scheduled to go to trial in January next year.
State lawyers are in the midst of trial preparation, said Justice Department spokesman John Barnes.
While Montana isn’t usually noted as one of the states besieged by opioid deaths, data released last month by plaintiffs in the national lawsuits revealed that an extraordinary number of opioids have been prescribed in Montana, from 2006-2012.
The data says from 2006-2012, nearly 90 million doses of oxycodone were distributed in Montana and almost 140 million doses of hydrocodone.
Purdue has already settled at least one state lawsuit, with Oklahoma, and an Oklahoma judge this week found health-care giant Johnson & Johnson responsible for fostering the state’s opioid epidemic and ordered it to pay $572 million to help abate the crisis.