First major opioid trial begins in Oklahoma vs. drugmaker

Opioids. File photo: Flickr/K-State

May 28 (UPI) — A historic trial begins Tuesday between the state of Oklahoma and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, which is accused of facilitating the opioid crisis and thousands of deaths in the state.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter seeks to hold Johnson & Johnson accountable for overdoses of its narcotic painkillers. Other pharmaceutical companies were attached to the lawsuit, but Hunter dropped charges against most. Purdue Pharma settled for $270 million and Teva for $85 million to avoid trial, leaving Johnson & Johnson as the lone defendant.

“We have looked at literally millions of documents, taken hundreds of depositions, and we are even more convinced that these companies are the proximate cause for the epidemic in our state and in our country,” Hunter said.

More than 3,000 people died from opioid-related causes in Oklahoma between 2014 and 2017, Hunter said when he filed the suit two years ago.

“Manufactures have in a consistent and … coldblooded fashion marketed these drugs in a way that has misrepresented their tendency to be addictive and the extent to which they can be deadly,” it said.

The state accuses the company of exaggerating the benefits of opioids, and using deceptive marketing that encouraged physicians to prescribe narcotic painkillers for ailments not approved by regulators.

The precedent-setting Oklahoma bench trial is the first of its kind against an opioid manufacturer. Hundreds more nationwide are pending.

A North Dakota judge dismissed all of that state’s claims against Purdue, ruling that the company shouldn’t be blamed for drug abuse when the product is legal.

“Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue might give,” judge James Hill wrote in his ruling.


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