Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has a deal to settle lawsuits with two dozen states and thousands of cities and other plaintiffs.
The suits allege the drug giant pressured doctors to prescribe an excessive amount of painkillers and misled doctors and patients about the overdose and addiction risks.
The company is not affiliated in any way with West Lafayette’s Purdue University.
In the settlement, Purdue doesn’t admit to any wrongdoing and the company has since filed for bankruptcy since agreeing to the settlement.
However, people affected by the deadly opioid epidemic are balking at the deal.
“I’d be doing a lot better if the people who are responsible for all of this are held accountable, and I think the only way to do that is through criminal charges,” says Greenwood resident John McCullough.
McCullough says he spiraled down the path of addiction after being prescribed the drug Percocet for back pain over 10 years.
“I was essentially taking handfuls of it at a time, it wasn’t doing it for me anymore,” he says. “I had already lied to get it in the first place, I was faking my pain, my pain level, and it wasn’t really hard to continue lying.”
By the time his doctor cut him off from pain pills it was too late; McCullough was already addicted. So he started using heroin to get his fix.
“It was the last thing I thought of when I went to bed and the first thing I thought of when I got up in the morning,” he says.
McCullough is just one out of thousands of Hoosiers who fell victim to the state’s opioid crisis.
Critics say Purdue Pharma encouraged doctors to prescribe an array of pain killers, marketing them as drugs to eliminate pain with no risk of addiction.
Those marketing techniques became the foundation for a multi-state lawsuit against Purdue, claiming the pharmaceutical company is responsible for starting the opioid crisis.
Earlier this month, Purdue agreed to a $10 billion settlement to end the lawsuits, but it’s unclear how that money will benefit people and communities that are struggling.
State Representative Matt Pierce told people attending the 3rd annual South Central Opioid Summit he’s worried the Purdue settlement dollars could suffer the same fate as the tobacco settlement money received during the 1990s.
“That money came in and was supposed to be used for tobacco cessation programs and prevention programs and it was for a couple years, but it started getting syphoned off every time we had a recession,” says the Bloomington Democrat.
At least 26 states have rejected the Purdue settlement, but Indiana is not one of those. Attorney General Curtis Hill says he supports the settlement even though it’s not clear how much money Indiana will get from it.
Director and founder of Overdose Lifeline Justin Philips says Purdue Pharma and other pharmaceutical companies have changed the culture in which doctors and patients deal with pain and it may be hard to change it back.
“We made pain a vital sign, which means you can measure pain the same way you measure blood pressure, all of these things went into play, and the pharmaceutical companies led the physicians to believe these pain medications are the solution,” he says.
Philips says in addition to lawsuits, more needs to be done to prevent the pharmaceutical industry from influencing doctors.
“If there’s evidence to show that they knew these drugs were addictive, and they chose to hide that evidence, then I do believe there should be some consequences for those actions,” he says.
In the last 20 years more than 200,000 people have died from prescription overdoses and another 200,000 have died from heroin or fentanyl overdoses.