The State of Oklahoma’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, the first major trial against an opioid manufacturer, began Tuesday in Norman, Oklahoma.
According to state, the pharmaceutical company used deceptive marketing, which downplayed the risks of opioid painkillers and overstated their benefits, to create an oversupply of the drug leading to a “public nuisance” that will cost the state billions of dollars to fix.
During opening arguments, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter accused Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticalsof a “cynical, deceitful multimillion-dollar brainwashing campaign to establish opioid analgesics as the magic drug” thereby leading to “the worst man-made public health crisis in the history of the country and the state.”
Hunter continued stating evidence would show more than 4,600 Oklahoma residents had died of overdoses from prescription opioids between 2007 and 2017 and state treatment centers saw more than 28,000 admissions related to opioid and heroin abuse from 2012 to 2018, CNN reported.
Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys contended that Oklahoma is wrongly trying to blame the company for a public health crisis.
"Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible,” Janssen Pharmaceuticals said in a statement ahead of the trial, CNBC reported. “The FDA-approved labels for these prescription pain medications provide clear information about their risks and benefits. The allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated."
Johnson & Johnson is the sole defendant in the case, which, according to Politico, is expected to last through much of the summer. Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, which were also listed as defendants, settled before the trial began, NPR reported. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, settled for $270 million in March, while the Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals settled for $85 million in May.
The historic case, which is the first of nearly 2,000 opioid-related lawsuits to go to trial, could set a precedent on whether or not a state can hold a major pharmaceutical company responsible for the current opioid epidemic.
Many of these upcoming opioid cases have been combined into a larger lawsuit that will be overseen by a federal judge in Ohio, Politico reported. The first of those cases is scheduled for October.
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, two out of three drug-related deaths in the U.S. involve an opioid. The CDC reported almost 400,000 people died from overdoses involving an opioid between the years of 1999 and 2017. The health crisis claims 130 lives a day in the U.S.