AG assigns interim board of directors to handle city, county Purdue settlement funds

The interim board of directors will oversee a foundation that will distribute funds to cities and counties participating in the Purdue settlement.

Donate
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. File photo. KASSIE McCLUNG/The Frontier
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is in the midst of establishing a foundation to divvy out the more than $12 million that was set aside to go to cities and counties from the recent settlement of the state’s lawsuit against drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

The foundation will be the second of its kind to come out of the settlement thus far.

Attorney general’s office spokesman Alex Gerszewski told The Frontier on Tuesday the agency has assigned an interim board of directors and is working to come up with a funding formula to distribute the money. All cities, towns and counties are eligible to participate in the settlement, he said.

The attorney general’s office reached a $270 million settlement agreement with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, in late March. The agreement dismissed Purdue from the state’s lawsuit, which accuses drug companies of knowingly fueling the state’s opioid crisis with an aggressive marketing campaign that made false claims about the dangers of the drug.

The settlement reserved $12.5 million to go to cities and counties to combat the opioid epidemic.

Hunter assigned five people from across the state who will serve in a limited, interim capacity as the initial board of directors, Gerszewski said in an emailed statement. The board had to be established in order for the state to receive the settlement funds, he said. 

That board is comprised of Mike Turpen, a former state attorney general who now works for a private practice; Greg Mashburn, a district attorney who represents three counties; David O’Meilia, the director of the city of Tulsa’s legal department; Tricia Everest, the director of Palomar, an Oklahoma City nonprofit; and David Weatherford, an attorney in Tulsa.

“Their role is to execute documents, set up a bank account to receive the settlement funds and enact initial bylaws,” Gerszewski said.

No funds will be allocated for at least 90 days or until another method is established to allocate the money among participating cities and counties, including a formula to distribute the money, Gerszewski said.

Of the settlement money, nearly $200 million went to establish a separate foundation that will provide funding for the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences Center for Wellness & Recovery, which will aim to treat and research addiction on a nationwide level.

Although Purdue was dismissed from the state’s lawsuit, the case is still pending against more than a dozen defendants and is set to go to trial next month in Cleveland County District Court.

Some lawmakers and attorneys representing counties and cities in their own lawsuits against Purdue have been critical of the settlement.

A handful of members of the Legislature were frustrated Hunter directed the bulk of the money to OSU-HSC through a new foundation, rather than giving it to the state treasury to distribute, according to the news site NonDoc

Some attorneys previously told The Frontier they weren’t sure whether they would choose to participate in the settlement, questioning whether they could instead try to secure more funds on their own.

In a news release on Tuesday, attorneys representing Comanche County were critical of the settlement and announced they will ask the Cleveland County judge in the state’s opioid lawsuit to allow them to join in on the case.

“As a result of the State’s settlement with Purdue, a meager $12.5 million, or roughly 5%, of the
monies will be allocated to cities and counties,” the release stated.

“Oklahoma has 597 municipalities and 77 counties, which means a potential allocation to Comanche County in the amount of $18,545.99. This equates to roughly 15 cents per Comanche County resident to combat the opioid epidemic.”

Attorney Matt Sill, an attorney representing the county, said the resources cities, counties and towns need to combat the opioid epidemic varies.

“The settlement with Purdue by the State raises concerns that local communities are going to be considered last in terms of allocating resources to combat the opioid crisis,” he said in the release.

In an emailed statement, Hunter said the Comanche County filing was “misguided.”

“No inferences should be drawn from the Purdue settlement vis-a-vis the final outcome of the state’s litigation against opioid manufacturers,” Hunter wrote. “As we have said, the Purdue situation was driven by a likely bankruptcy filing by the company and near certainty the state would receive nothing from Purdue.

“I am hopeful that concerns of the county can be addressed in conversations with their lawyers.”

Related reading: 

Oklahoma reaches $270 million settlement with Purdue and Sacklers in opioid lawsuit

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
Donate