In the mid-1960s, what amounted to a $35 million gift fell into the University of Tulsa’s lap.
TU’s share of oilman J.A. Chapman’s estate proved transformative. Aside from its direct impact, the Chapman endowment brought the university credibility and helped it attract new donors.
From a small liberal arts college perpetually wondering how to make its next payroll, TU blossomed into a major university with international reputations in such diverse fields as literature, engineering and cybersecurity. Its total endowment exceeds $1.1 billion.
Adjusted for inflation, the $177.5 million in cash Oklahoma State University’s Center for Wellness and Recovery is due from the state’s settlement with Purdue Pharma does not quite equal TU’s $35 million 50-plus years ago. But OSU’s Center for Health Sciences — and the people who negotiated the Purdue settlement — hope it is just as transformative.
“We want to be a national center,” said OSUCHS President Kayse Shrum, “a place people are looking to for the gold standard in addiction treatment and cutting-edge research.”
The money, Shrum said, will allow OSUCHS to recruit national experts to an advisory board that will help direct the Center for Wellness and Recovery’s activities, and to attract major grants and additional donors.
Not everyone is happy with the terms of the settlement. Some legislators, in particular, are perturbed they weren’t consulted about an agreement that gives nearly three-quarters of a $270 million total settlement to a single — and fairly small — program in Tulsa.
Some have questioned whether the agreement is even legal. Others warn it could come unraveled in the face of mounting financial pressure on Purdue and its owners, the Sackler family.
In any event, the terms of the settlement call for Purdue to complete transfer this week of its full $175 million cash payment, including $102.5 million to OSUCHS — or, more specifically, a foundation account set up for just that purpose.
The remaining $75 million in cash is to be provided over five years by the Sackler family, as are the $20 million in anti-addiction drugs included in the deal.
It’s all quite stunning for the Center for Wellness and Recovery, which did not officially exist until November 2017.
Shrum, though, said the beginnings of the center date to 2013, when OSUCHS decided to include addiction medicine in its medical school curriculum.
The “understanding that this was a public health crisis,” Shrum said, led to a realization that something more was needed.
“A lot of people were struggling,” she said.
One of the people most concerned with this epidemic was Dr. Jason Beaman, chairman of OSUCHS’ Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Beaman says the first patient to die under his care was a young opioid addict.
“I was working at a psychiatric hospital,” Beaman said. “He’d overdosed three times in one night (before being brought to the hospital). I worked on him for two weeks. And then he went home and overdosed again. It was one of the worst nights of my career.”
Beaman said subsequent experiences reinforced his growing desire to focus on opioid addiction treatment and research.
“In talking with Dr. Shrum, she said, ‘We’ve got to create a center.’ And so we started building the foundation components.”
Those components are patient care, education and research.
An affiliate of the Hazelden Betty Ford Patient Care Network, the Center for Wellness and Recovery partners with the nonprofit 12 & 12 treatment program and operates its own behavioral and pain management clinics.
Besides training its own students in addiction medicine and the use of buprenorphine, a drug that helps “wean” patients off of stronger opioids, the center’s Project ECHO provides information and expertise to practicing physicians across the state.
One of the center’s more interesting research projects is a cooperative undertaking with OSUCHS’ Center for Integrated Research in Childhood Adversity. It looks for links between adverse childhood experiences — ACEs — and substance abuse and addiction.
“We tend to think of addiction as a supply issue,” Beaman said. “But there’s also a demand issue. Why are so many people in this state taking opioids?”
On the biochemistry front, Beaman said he expects the development of an “anti-addiction” vaccine that facilitates opioid use for pain management without addiction.
“We are going to save a lot of lives,” Beaman said he told Attorney General Mike Hunter, who signed off on the agreement. “But now it’s put-up-or-shut-up time.
“I believe that just like people go to the Mayo Clinic or to the M.D. Anderson Center for cancer, they will come to OSU in Tulsa for addiction and pain treatment.”