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Senate President Questions Why Kentucky Settled OxyContin Case

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Robert Stivers, the president of the Kentucky State Senate, said he’ll ask to intervene in a legal challenge against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma in order to release documents that deal with a settlement the company made with the state in late 2015.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, suggested the case was improperly settled by former Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, saying the $24 million windfall amounted to “pennies on the dollar” of what the state could have gotten.

Stivers also accused Conway of settling the case days before he left office in order to prevent a potential conflict of interest with current Attorney General Andy Beshear.

“It may have been settled because of potential conflicts,” Stivers said. “That’s what we want answered. Open the records. If it’s not, then that’s fine. If it is, then there’s more questions that need to be asked.”

Beshear worked for the law firm that represented Purdue Pharma in Kentucky’s lawsuit, Stites & Harbison, though he says he didn’t work on the case.

Kentucky sued Purdue Pharma in 2007, accusing the company of marketing OxyContin as a non-addictive prescription painkiller.

Former Attorney General Greg Stumbo argued that the company’s practices created a surge of addiction across the state and claimed the case could lead to a $1 billion settlement.

Purdue Pharma changed the formula for OxyContin in 2010 to try and prevent abuse of the drug.

Then in late 2015, the company agreed to pay the state $24 million over eight years as part of a settlement over the case.

STAT, an affiliate of the Boston Globe, sued Purdue Pharma to unseal documents dealing with the settlement agreement, arguing that the public has a right to know the contents of settlements made by the state.

The news outlet is trying to obtain records that include a deposition of a former president of the company, marketing strategies and business strategies for the promotion of OxyContin.

Stivers’ accusation came minutes before a news conference in which Beshear announced plans to bring between two and 10 lawsuits against drug companies that he says contribute to the state’s opioid crisis.

Beshear called Stivers’ accusations “silly” and politically motivated.

“Shame on President Stivers,” Beshear said. “We’re here, talking about combating the opioid epidemic and holding those accountable that have ravaged his district more so than most.”

Beshear said his office can’t take a position on unsealing documents in the case because it would nullify the settlement and allow the company to claw back the $24 million payment to the state.

A report released by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy on Tuesday said that 1,404 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses in 2016.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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