By Renzi Stone | Published: April 7, 2019
Problems don’t solve themselves. Attorney General Mike Hunter should be applauded for the historic and visionary $270 million settlement he recovered from Purdue Pharmaceuticals, makers of OxyContin, for the people of Oklahoma.
This settlement is as visionary as it is large. Oklahoma ranks at the top in several tragic categories related to opioid overdoses and addiction, and Hunter has shown commendable courage in trying to turn back this fatal tide.
Long before he constructed this agreement, he consulted with the most informed minds in the world on how one state could make a difference. In April 2017, Hunter formed the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse, a bipartisan group that included members of the medical community, law enforcement, treatment and addiction specialists, private-sector businesses, and members of the Legislature. The commission worked with national and local experts and recommended seven pieces of legislation, all of which were passed in 2018. They also determined that meaningful long- and short-term action against this epidemic required concentrated research, education, re-education, destigmatization and treatment. That could not be effectively done with a scattershot approach. But who would pay?
This pioneering settlement focuses $200 million in the building of a world-class facility at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Wellness. As a regent at the University of Oklahoma, I’m cheering for our friends at OSU as they take the next step in remediating this crisis. There is no doubt OU will have a productive role to play as the state progresses in this litigation. We should be proud that the recovery for this national problem could be found right here in Oklahoma. We have the people, the framework and the infrastructure to allow us to take a great leap forward and give us a greatly needed ongoing advantage in educating and treating this disease. This center will make Oklahoma the national nucleus of knowledge and treatment of addiction, allowing us to save lives and rescue families right now.
Hunter is the first attorney general in the United States to force any member of the Sackler family to pay to settle a claim, and he engineered an aggressive and creative solution that guaranteed immediate payment from a company on the verge of bankruptcy. This settlement has received national praise for its size, vision and resourcefulness. Hunter got more for the state from Purdue than any other state has ever won in an opioid case. And he still has a trial against the remaining defendants, including Johnson & Johnson.
We have a long fight ahead of us. Oklahoma is a top 10 state in too many bad categories, but now we rank No. 1 in creating a solution for all Oklahomans.
Stone is CEO of Oklahoma City-based Saxum, an integrated marketing communication firm.