Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announces a major lawsuit against drug distributors related to Washington’s opioid epidemic on March 12 in Seattle. He is surrounded by his legal team, victims from the opioid epidemic, and researchers in the field. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP, file)

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announces a major lawsuit against drug distributors related to Washington’s opioid epidemic on March 12 in Seattle. He is surrounded by his legal team, victims from the opioid epidemic, and researchers in the field. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP, file)

Local lawsuits inch forward to seek damages for opioid abuse

After Oklahoma settlement, Purdue Pharma continues to fight cases from Everett and Snohomish County.

EVERETT — A legal settlement with Oklahoma this week dealt OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma a major setback, but it may not change the course of local lawsuits over the drug’s impacts closer to home, officials said.

The company and the family that owns it agreed to pay Oklahoma $270 million related to the opioid crisis. The agreement ended an upcoming trial in that state’s court system.

Snohomish County, Everett and the Tulalip Tribes are pursuing lawsuits in federal court, along with hundreds of other jurisdictions throughout the country. A separate case filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is moving toward trial in King County Superior Court.

The particulars vary. They all allege that Purdue ignored the potential dangers of its product and encouraged doctors to prescribe more. The conduct, they claim, contributed to overdose deaths, crime rates and other ills.

Snohomish County filed a lawsuit earlier this year. In addition to Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, it names drug distributor McKesson Pharmaceutical, pharmacists and physicians.

“The county is actively monitoring and reviewing the developments in Oklahoma and we will determine how it affects our lawsuit filed against Purdue and others regarding the opioid impacts in Snohomish County,” said Jason Cummings, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor.

The companies deny the allegations.

Originally filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, the county’s case was removed earlier this month to U.S. District Court in Western Washington. It could wind up with numerous other federal cases being handled in the Northern District of Ohio.

That’s where Everett’s lawsuit was transferred in late 2017. On March 15, the city of Everett supplemented and amended its complaint with new claims against Purdue. The city also added several defendants, including other pharmaceutical companies and wholesalers. Among the new names are Rite Aid, Walgreens and Walmart.

More than 1,400 federal lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies have been consolidated in front of the same judge in Cleveland who is pushing the drugmakers and distributors to reach a nationwide settlement with state and local governments.

Ferguson filed the Washington state suit in late 2017. The case is now in the discovery phase after King County Superior Court declined Purdue’s motion for dismissal. The Attorney General’s Office expects a trial date in February 2020, spokeswoman Brionna Aho said.

Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin more than 20 years ago and marketed it aggressively to doctors. It has made tens of billions of dollars from the drug.

Purdue Pharma has settled other lawsuits over the years, and three executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2007. The Oklahoma settlement, announced Tuesday, was the first to emerge from the surge of litigation that focuses largely on the company’s more recent conduct. The Sackler family, which controls the company, is responsible for $75 million of the settlement.

Company officials recently acknowledged they are considering filing for bankruptcy because of the crush of lawsuits. A spokesman said Purdue Pharma, “is exploring and preparing for any number of eventualities and options, given the amount of litigation the company currently faces.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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