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Two local plaintiffs lawyers are celebrating the Justice Department’s $635 million plea agreement with the Purdue Frederick Co. and three of its executives over its marketing of prescription painkiller OxyContin. That agreement, reached earlier this month, sets aside $130 million to settle hundreds of civil suits against the company by those who sued saying they became addicted to the drug. Doug McNamara of D.C.’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll has represented more than a thousand individuals nationwide over the past six years. The firm also served as outside counsel to the state of West Virginia, which settled with the drug maker back in 2004. Many suits, McNamara said, were hampered by the difficulty in showing that patients became addicted to OxyContin rather than Percoset or Vicodin, which are nearly identical drugs and were often also prescribed to OxyContin users. McNamara said that his firm gave the federal case a boost back in 2004, when it turned over numerous documents, depositions, and other evidence showing the pharmaceutical company downplayed the dangers of the drug. Nelson Smith, a solo practitioner in Northern Virginia, has represented 1,400 clients across the country in suits against Purdue — which the company chose to fight individually rather than consolidate. The plea agreement “validates a lot of what my clients have been saying,” Smith says. For Purdue the plea agreement is a step towards closure in an epic legal effort, which, according to a 2006 article in The Wall Street Journal included $400 million in legal fees. Among the roughly 40 corporate defense firms that benefited from that largess: King & Spalding, Chadbourne & Parke, and Covington & Burling.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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