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​Kentucky settles lawsuit with OxyContin maker for $24 million

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The maker of OxyContin will pay Kentucky $24 million over the next eight years as part of the settlement of a long-running lawsuit that accused the company of misleading the public about the addictiveness of the powerful prescription drug.

The state first filed the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in 2007. The Connecticut-based company has had FDA approval since 1995 to market OxyContin, a type of opioid that can relieve pain and has similar qualities to the illegal drug heroin.

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Kentucky officials accused Purdue Pharma of marketing the prescription painkiller as nonaddictive because it was a pill that, when swallowed, slowly released the drug over 12 hours. However, users soon discovered if they crushed the pill the drug lost its time release qualities and created an instant high.

State officials said that led to a wave of addiction and increased medical costs across the state, particularly in eastern Kentucky where many injured coal miners were prescribed the drug. Former Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who filed the lawsuit in 2007, said the case could be worth as much as $1 billion if it ever got in front of a jury.

Purdue Pharma replaced the drug with a new version in 2010 that deters abuse.

Conway, a Democrat who leaves office next month, said in a news release the case was "still facing significant legal issues."

The state Supreme Court was still considering whether Purdue Pharma missed a deadline to dispute the facts of the case. That decision, if awarded in Kentucky's favor, would greatly help the state wins the case.

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In 2007, Conway said Purdue Pharma offered Kentucky $500,000 to settle the lawsuit. The state refused.

"Purdue Pharma created havoc in Kentucky, and I am glad it will be held accountable," Conway said in a news release. "Purdue lit a fire of addiction with OxyContin that spread across this state, and Kentucky is still reeling from its effects."

The agreement says Purdue Pharma will pay Kentucky $12 million followed by another $12 million over the next eight years. The court ordered the state to spend the money on addiction treatment programs

Purdue Pharma did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement agreement.

Purdue Pharma General Counsel Philip C. Strassburger said in a news release the company has focused on reducing the abuse of prescription opioids for the past 10 years. He said the settlement allows the company to "focus on bringing innovative abuse-deterrent medicines to patients and our other efforts to combat prescription drug abuse and overuse."

Also Wednesday, Conway announced a $15.5 million settlement with Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Janssen makes Risperdal, an antipsychotic prescription drug used to treat schizophrenia and acute mania associated with bipolar disorder. The lawsuit accuses the companies of marketing the drug without disclosing its side effects.

Janssen agreed to pay Kentucky $15.5 million. The company did not admit wrongdoing.

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