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The Oklahoman: Editorial: Deal is a game-changer for Oklahoma

The Oklahoman: Editorial: Deal is a game-changer for Oklahoma

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board | Published: March 31, 2019

Minnesota is known as home of the Mayo Clinic, renowned for its treatment of various medical issues. Texas boasts the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, considered the nation’s foremost hospital for cancer care. One day, Oklahoma could become synonymous with world-class help for people fighting addiction.

That is the hope for Oklahoma State University’s Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa, which since 2017 has been studying and treating addiction and researching ways to cure it. The center’s dreams of significantly expanding its work, and its impact, are being realized through a legal agreement with one of the nation’s leading drug makers, Purdue Pharma, Inc., and the family that controls the company.

Purdue, maker of the painkiller OxyContin, is among several companies that were sued in 2017 by the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who contends the companies’ policies and practices have contributed to the misuse of opioids. More than 200,000 Americans have died from opioid addiction in the past two decades; Oklahoma has been particularly hard-hit by the epidemic.

The settlement with Purdue was announced one day after the state Supreme Court rejected a bid by the drug maker and other defendants to delay the start of the trial, which is scheduled for May in Cleveland County. Purdue also is considering filing for bankruptcy. Hunter said the attorneys hired by the state to prosecute the case took steps to make the settlement “bankruptcy-proof.”

The greatest beneficiary will be OSU’s wellness center. It has an annual budget of about $2.4 million, but over time will receive up to $197.5 million of the settlement.

An injection of $102.5 million will come via a foundation that will direct the money to the OSU Center for Health Sciences. Beginning Jan. 1, the center will begin receiving $15 million per year for five years. OSU also will receive ongoing contributions of addiction treatment medicine totaling $20 million.

To say this is a game-changer is putting it mildly.

OSU President Burns Hargis said the wellness center is already highly regarded nationally but that the new revenue will produce research leading eventually to “the end of the nation’s ongoing public health crisis.”

Hargis made a point to salute Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of the OSU Health Sciences Center, for her work advancing the mission of the wellness center. Shrum has indeed been a leader in this area, and says the endowment will let OSU help communities across the state and the country that have been impacted by opioids.

She also said this: “We have been recognized in Oklahoma for the problem that we have. We are now going to be recognized for the solution.”

Amen to that. And kudos to Hunter and his team for their work in brokering a deal that is so potentially transformative for the state.