The Sackler Family—which has earned over $4 billion from the sale of OxyContin over the past decade—is a charitable family. Some of the most prestigious museums and universities across the country bear the Sackler name. But there is one cause to which the Sacklers have notably failed to contribute: addiction treatment.
The $270 million settlement won by Oklahoma’s Attorney General last week represents several firsts. This is the first time Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family have been held financially accountable for their role in creating our nation’s opioid epidemic. This is also the first of 36 state lawsuits against Purdue and the Sacklers to reach settlement. And the $197.5 million earmarked for OSU’s Center for Wellness and Recovery means that for first time that the Sackler Family will, however begrudgingly, fund treatment to combat the epidemic they helped to create.
At Groups: Recover Together, we’ve spent the last five years fighting the opiate epidemic by expanding access to affordable, high-quality, medication-assisted treatment across the United States. The Sackler Family and Purdue have spent the last five years fighting to avoid responsibility for their actions. We treat over 5,000 people each week—sadly only a tiny fraction of the people affected by opiate addiction.
Last week, Oklahoma won a landmark victory in the legal battle to ensure that those who harm our society are held responsible. Oklahoma has also made great strides in addressing the aftermath of years of overprescribing and opioid abuse—opioid overdose deaths have declined 43% in Oklahoma in the last decade, and Oklahoma’s opioid prescribing rate has declined by 29% over the past five years.
But this crisis is far from over. Last year, approximately 140,000 Oklahomans misused prescription pain medication. And when prescription pain medication becomes less available, people suffering from addiction face a choice: seek heroin, or seek treatment. Across the country, thousands of people are forced to make this choice each day, and often treatment isn’t an option at all.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, Oklahoma State University, and many other institutions across the State have worked for years to ensure that when Oklahomans are faced with that choice, treatment is available. We’re proud to provide 24-hour access to treatment in Claremore so that the moment someone reaches out for help, they get it. But while much treatment is available in Tulsa and Oklahoma’s other urban communities, options for those in the State’s most rural counties remain limited. That’s why we hope to expand our services to rural and underserved communities across the State.
As OSU continues to advance groundbreaking research into addiction medicine, we hope that they will also fund free treatment in the State’s hardest hit communities, enabling providers to serve those in the greatest need. Oklahoma State University now has an opportunity to do what the Sackler family has refused to do: spend drug money on drug treatment.
Cooper Zelnick is the Executive Director of Groups: Recover Together of Claremore.