Routt County enters claim in Purdue Pharma bankruptcy proceeding
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to file a claim in a bankruptcy proceeding against Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, the drug at the center of the crisis, has been working with states, cities and counties across the country in a proposed settlement worth an estimated $10 billion, according to a report from Reuters. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September with more than 2,600 lawsuits alleging it bears responsibility for a public health crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
As Routt County Attorney Erick Knaus explained, Purdue is one of many defendants in nationwide litigation efforts to hold companies accountable for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic. Purdue filed its bankruptcy claim as a way of limiting its financial liability, Knaus said.
Colorado is one of about two dozens states that have opposed the settlement claim, arguing it will not provide as much money as promised and that it allows the Sackler family, who owns the pharmaceutical giant, to get off easy.
According to Knaus, he received an estimate for how much Routt County could receive in the bankruptcy claim — a whopping $16 million. He cautioned the commissioners not to expect such a large check.
As he explained, this is not the typical process for resolving claims or for handling debtor-creditor proceedings. In this case, the debtor, Purdue Pharma, owes an unknown amount of money to the various entities that file claims.
“We are likely to see much closer to $0 than $16 million,” Knaus said.
It also is unclear when the county might see any of the money. With that in mind, Commissioner Tim Corrigan asked if there are any risks to filing a claim.
“I don’t see any harm in it,” Knaus replied. “I wouldn’t change my anticipated budget revenue based on it, though.”
For more than a year, Knaus also has been involved with a broader litigation process, called a negotiation class. It targets numerous drug companies and opioid providers, from the Rite-Aid Corporation to Walmart Inc. The purpose of the litigation is to get money from these companies to fight the opioid epidemic, provide prevention and treatment services and change business practices.
Between 1999 and 2018, nearly 400,000 people died from overdoses involving opioids, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of the crisis stems from pharmaceutical companies’ aggressive marketing tactics starting in the 1990s, during which they claimed patients would not get addicted to opioids.
This led doctors to prescribe them widely, flooding the country with the drugs. In 2012, when prescriptions reached their peak, doctors were prescribing opioids at a rate of 81.3 prescriptions per 100 patients, according to the CDC.
On Friday, Melton is scheduled to meet with Colorado Counties, Inc., a nonprofit group of various county commissioners in the state, to discuss the opioid litigation. She said the main goal of the group is to push the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to distribute any money the state receives as part of any settlements to local communities.
Mountain Medical Road to Recovery in Routt County has received state funding for addiction treatment programs in the past, though not as a result of these lawsuits. The recovery center provides a variety of treatment options for substance abuse disorders, from group therapy to medication-assisted treatments.
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