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OxyContin maker Purdue gets brief shield from litigation

By Tom Hals
FILE PHOTO: Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D. sit on a shelf at a local pharmacy in Provo

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) - OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP won a court order on Friday briefly pausing the sprawling opioid litigation against the company so it can try to make headway on its proposed legal settlement that it says is worth $10 billion.

The company and its controlling Sackler family have been accused in more than 2,600 lawsuits, mostly brought by states and local governments, of improper marketing of its opioid products and fueling a nationwide crisis.

The plaintiffs in the bulk of those cases support the proposed settlement, but at least 24 states oppose it.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain on Friday approved a stay of all litigation until Nov. 6.

The company hopes over the coming weeks it can to convince the hold-out states to agree to extend the stay on litigation to six months, as the governments backing the settlement have agreed to.

Drain also hoped the brief stay would give the parties time to hammer out a protocol for sharing documents and financial information about Purdue and the Sackler family in a way that would win the trust of the hold-out states.

Just prior to Friday's six-hour hearing, Purdue attorney Marshall Huebner said the company, the official committee of unsecured creditors and the Sacklers worked out an information sharing agreement.

The agreement would allow the committee to assess the settlement, and the Sacklers also agreed to provide information about their wealth and would agree to refrain from taking any material action with their property.

Privately-held Purdue filed for bankruptcy last month to help it implement the proposed deal, which will transfer Purdue's ownership to a public trust owned by the plaintiffs. In addition, the family has also pledged to contribute at least $3 billion to the settlement.

Drain said the public deserves an accounting of the company's role in the crisis, which has led to some 400,000 deaths from 1999 to 2017, according to U.S. statistics.

However, he said he feared a "trial becomes an autopsy" that destroys the value of Purdue, adding that most trials leave many unresolved questions.

"There are trials where people stand up and say 'I did it.' But that mostly happens on Perry Mason," he said, referring to the popular TV show from the 1950s and '60s featuring a lawyer who won virtually every case.

Drain also urged the parties to determine the best way to divvy up the settlement proceeds, echoing comments he had made on Thursday.


(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Bill Berkrot)