FILE - In this Thursday, May 4, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks during an interview in his office in Oklahoma City. One of the drugmakers named in Oklahoma’s lawsuit over the opioid crisis has agreed to a settlement in which it will pay the state $85 million. Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals and Hunter both announced the settlement in separate statements. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Spotlight on Oklahoma for start of trial for opioid makers

On trial are Johnson & Johnson and some of its subsidiaries

Oklahoma is poised to become the first state to go to trial in a lawsuit against the makers of pharmaceuticals blamed for contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis.

Although several states have reached settlements with drugmakers, including Oklahoma’s agreements this year with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the trial set to begin Tuesday against consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson and some of its subsidiaries, could bring to light documents and testimony that show what companies knew, when they knew it and how they responded. The outcome could also shape negotiations on how to resolve the roughly 1,500 opioid lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments that have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

Here are some things to know about the Oklahoma trial:

Q: Who are the players?

A: Oklahoma will be represented by three law firms that stand to earn up to 25 per cent of any award, combined. The firms netted nearly $60 million for their work negotiating the Purdue settlement.

Although 13 companies were initially listed as defendants, pre-trial settlements have left Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, which produced opioid drugs including Nucynta and the fentanyl patch Duragesic.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman, who is presiding in the case, is a former Republican state legislator appointed to the bench by former GOP Gov. Mary Fallin in 2013. Balkman, not a jury, will decide the case. He is allowing cameras in the courtroom, which is a rarity in Oklahoma.

Q: What are the allegations?

A: Oklahoma alleges that the drugmakers helped create a public health crisis in the state by extensively marketing highly addictive opioids for years in a way that overstated their effectiveness and underplayed the risk of addiction.

“The damage defendants’ false and deceptive marketing campaigns caused to the state of Oklahoma is catastrophic,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of the defendants’ egregious conduct, the state of Oklahoma paid, and continues to pay, millions of dollars for health care costs that stem from prescription opioid dependency.”

The companies maintain that they are part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry that is subject to strict federal oversight, and that doctors are the ones who prescribe the drugs. Much of the opioid crisis, they argue, is the result of illegal activity, such as drugs being stolen or fraudulently obtained.

Q: What has happened so far?

A: Both sides have been wrangling for two years over many pretrial issues in the complicated case, and while a settlement is still possible, the state and Johnson & Johnson both say they are ready for trial.

Because many of those documents involve trade secrets or marketing strategies and have been filed under seal, experts say much of the litigation so far has been marked by a great deal of secrecy.

“Lots of documents have been redacted, sealed or exchanged pursuant to confidentiality agreements,” said Stanford Law School professor Nora Freeman Engstrom, a nationally recognized expert in tort law and legal ethics who has been closely following the case.

“Starting (Tuesday), the court will pull back the curtain. It’ll provide one of the first opportunities to see what started, and what fueled, this public health crisis.”

Q: What’s unique about Oklahoma?

A: Since it’s the first of the many opioid lawsuits set to go to trial, the Oklahoma suit could stand as a test case for the companies and other states to hone their own legal strategies and arguments.

Q: Does the trial have significance outside of Oklahoma?

A: A federal judge in Ohio who is overseeing about 1,500 of the other cases has been pushing for the industry and governments to reach a global settlement that would make a dent in the opioid crisis. A verdict in this trial could help shape those negotiations.

Some family members of those who have died from opioid overdoses say they don’t want the cases settled and would rather see the companies’ role in the opioid crisis revealed in a trial.

Opioids, including prescription drugs and illicit ones such as heroin, were factors in nearly 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was more deaths than the number of people killed in automobile crashes that year.

ALSO READ: Health Canada tightens marketing requirements for opioid prescriptions

ALSO READ: Canadian drug makers hit with $1.1B suit for pushing opioids despite risks

ALSO READ: Carfentanil, an opioid more toxic than fentanyl, linked to more deaths in B.C.

___

Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

___

Sean Murphy, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Clearwater area to benefit from forestry worker support programs

Province announces $69 million fund to assist with industry closures

Barriere couple threatened with eviction after TNRD visit

“How can they expect us to leave our land, livestock and belongings behind, unsecured”

B.C. offers early retirement, training fund for forest workers

Communities eligible for $100,000 for permanent closures

Community of Vavenby weekly news update

Vavenby Elementary School has two teachers this year as the number of students has increased

‘I shouldn’t have done it,’ Trudeau says of brownface photo

Trudeau says he also wore makeup while performing a version of a Harry Belafonte song

35 of 87 dogs in 2018 Williams Lake seizure were euthanized due to behavioural issues, BCSPCA confirm

The dogs did not respond to the behaviour modification and remained terrified of humans

B.C. ‘tent city’ disputes spark call for local government autonomy

UBCM backs Maple Ridge after province overrules city

B.C. drug dealers arrested after traffic stop near Banff turns into helicopter pursuit

Antonio Nolasco-Padia, 23, and Dina Anthony, 55, both well-known to Chilliwack law enforcement

B.C. MLA calls on province to restrict vaping as first related illness appears in Canada

Todd Stone, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, introduced an anti-vaping bill in April

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

B.C. bus crash survivor petitions feds to fix road where classmates died

UVic student’s petition well over halfway to 5k signature goal

Most Read