Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pike County judge orders release of documents in OxyContin case, including deposition of former president of family-owned firm

Sealed documents about marketing of OxyContin, which some experts say started the epidemic of prescription-drug abuse, will become public if the order of a Pike County judge is upheld.

Circuit Judge Steven Combs issued the order Wednesday in response to a motion by Stat, the health-and-medicine supplement to The Boston Globe. “The court sees no higher value than the public (via the media) having access to these discovery materials so that the public can see the facts for themselves,” Combs wrote.

The documents were part of a state attorney general's lawsuit settled in December by payment of $24 million from Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Combs ordered that they be unsealed in 32 days, which would be June 12, but said he would stay the release in case of an appeal. Purdue Pharma said it would appeal.

Combs heard arguments from a Purdue Pharma attorney May 6.
(Photo by Matt Herp for Stat)
Combs said the settlement was among the reasons that the documents should be unsealed. “The public interest in accessing the materials used to make the decision to settle is more than minimal,” he wrote, adding that it “militates in favor of public access.”

Rick Berke, Stat’s executive editor and a former editor at The New York Times, said, “The national opioid epidemic is killing 30,000 people a year, and we are pleased that the court moved so swiftly to bring to light records that can inform the public’s understanding of Purdue’s role in this crisis. We see pursuit of this story as integral to Stat’s central mission to hold institutions and individuals accountable.” Stat's managing editor is Gideon Gil, who was medical writer and regional editor for The Courier-Journal before returning to his native Boston.

Stat appears especially interested in the deposition of Dr. Richard Sackler, a Purdue Pharma board member and former president of the Connecticut-based company, which his family controls. "The deposition of Sackler, taken last year in Kentucky, is believed to be the only time a member of the family that owns Purdue has been questioned under oath about the marketing of OxyContin and the addictive properties of the pain reliever," David Armstrong reports for Stat. "Purdue contended that the deposition of Sackler, who is also a company board member, played no role in how the lawsuit was settled."

Armstrong writes, "17 million pages of documents were produced during the litigation. As part of the settlement agreement, the Kentucky attorney general destroyed its copies of documents provided by Purdue. Stat learned that other copies of several key documents, including the Sackler deposition, were filed under seal at the Pike County court." Attorney General Andy Beshear, who took office after the settlement, took no position on Stat's motion but said it would not appeal. The suit was filed in 2007 by then-AG Greg Stumbo, not state House speaker, and settle by then-AG Jack Conway.

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