Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman is expected to deliver a ruling Monday on the first opioid trial among thousands of cases filed on behalf of state and local governments blaming opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies for opioid overdose deaths and related economic damages.
The trial, which began in May, was brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who argued that Johnson & Johnson devised a years-long marketing scheme that misled doctors into thinking its opioid painkillers were safe, and withheld the severity of the drugs’ addiction and overdose risks. As a result, doctors liberally prescribed the company’s opioids to patients in the state, fueling an opioid epidemic.
Johnson & Johnson was targeted by the lawsuits for two opioids it manufactures, Duragesic (fentanyl) and Nucynta (tapentadol), as well as for the role it played in its former subsidiary Noramco, a company that supplied other opioid manufacturers with the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients derived from poppies for their opioids.
As part of the trial, Oklahoma’s attorneys put the state medical examiner on the stand, who testified in heart-wrenching detail stories of numerous opioid overdose deaths through the years. The trial also included testimony focused on the state’s abatement plan to stop the opioid crisis by training medical students how to deliver opioid antidotes. The state said that it would cost $12 billion over the next two decades to address the economic damages caused by the opioid crisis.
Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals were originally listed as defendants along with Johnson & Johnson. In March, Purdue agreed to pay $270 million to settle with the state. Teva agreed to settle for $85 million days before the case went to trial.