VALDOSTA — A recent settlement between a major pharmaceutical company and the federal government involving America’s opioid epidemic will not affect Lowndes County’s lawsuit against the firm, a lawyer for the county said.
Purdue Pharma, the company behind the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, the Justice Department announced this week.
The company will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, officials said.
The Sackler family will lose all control over their company, a move already in the works, and Purdue will become a public benefit company, meaning it will be governed by a trust that has to balance the trust’s interests against those of the American public and public health, officials said.
Thousands of cities and counties across the country filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and other drug companies, seeking compensation for damages and the cost of treating addicts.
Opioid treatment costs were a factor in the closing of Cook County’s only emergency room in 2017, forcing people with medical emergencies to travel outside the county, said Dwight Purvis, former county commission chairman, in a past interview.
In South Georgia, Lowndes County — along with Echols, Berrien, Lanier and Cook counties plus the city of Tifton — sued Purdue Pharma in 2018.
The settlement announced Wednesday should have no effect on the lawsuits area governments have filed, said Haynes Studstill, a lawyer with the Valdosta-based Studstill Firm LLC, which filed Lowndes County’s lawsuit.
“We’ve looked at everything,” she said. “It won’t affect (Lowndes’ lawsuit) at all.”
Studstill said the announced settlement is a wrap-up of the U.S. Department of Justice’s case against the company.
“It appears to be the Sackler family’s attempt to get out of it,” she said.
Bellwether lawsuits in Virginia and Ohio that should have gone to court already had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Studstill said.
The new trust-company version of Purdue Pharma will continue to sell OxyContin, but will also sell drugs to treat overdosing — under federal government control.
“The idea of the federal government getting into the pharmaceutical business is scary,” Studstill said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.