Monday October 21, 2019
Home Lead Story Johnson &...

Johnson & Johnson Opioid Trial Begins in Oklahoma Lawsuit

Drugmakers named in the lawsuit denied claims made by the state

Johnson & Johnson, Opioid Trial
State's attorney Brad Beckworth delivers an opening statement during the opioid trial at the Cleveland County Courthouse in Norman, Oklahoman, May 28, 2019. VOA

A civil lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson went to trial Tuesday over the company’s alleged role in the U.S. opioid epidemic.

The first-of-its-kind trial, which holds opioid manufacturers responsible for the drug crisis gripping the country, could have a large impact on other states seeking similar compensation.

In opening statements, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called the prescription opioid epidemic the “worst man-made public health crisis in the history of our state and country.”

Hunter further characterized Johnson & Johnson as being motivated by greed and having been engaged in “a cynical, deceitful multimillion-dollar brainwashing campaign.”

Johnson & Johnson, Opioid Trial
Larry Ottaway, one of the attorneys for Johnson & Johnson, listens during the state’s opening arguments, May 28, 2019, in Norman, Oklahoma. VOA

Drugmakers named in the lawsuit denied claims made by the state, which is located in the U.S. Great Plains. Two of those companies settled with the state before the trial began.

In an opening statement, Larry Ottaway, a Johnson & Johnson defense lawyer, told the court that Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, advertised its drugs in compliance with a Food and Drug Administration consensus that said opioids “only rarely caused addiction.”

The state of Oklahoma alleges Johnson & Johnson created a surplus of painkillers and is responsible for creating a “public nuisance.”

“If you have an oversupply, people will die,” said Brad Beckworth, a private attorney hired by the state of Oklahoma. In explaining some of the numbers behind the crisis, he told the court there were 135 opioid pills available for every adult in Cleveland County, which has a population of about 280,000. Cleveland County is where the trial is being held.

Also Read- Somalia Drought: 2 Million at Risk of Starvation

County District Judge Thad Balkman will decide the case, in lieu of a jury.

On Sunday, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd. reached an $85 million settlement with the state. Teva said in a statement, “The settlement does not establish any wrongdoing on the part of the company. Teva has not contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.”

In March, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, settled with the state for $270 million.

Other lawsuits

Nationwide, states, cities and tribal governments have brought more than 1,600 lawsuits against drugmakers, seeking compensation for money spent addressing the opioid epidemic.

Johnson & Johnson, Opioid Trial
Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson went to trial Tuesday over the company’s alleged role in the U.S. opioid epidemic. VOA

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 388 overdose deaths involving opioids in Oklahoma in 2017, a rate of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 persons. The national rate was 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.

In his opening statement, Attorney General Hunter said opioid overdoses had killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.

Also Read- Sudan: Strikers Push Military to Give Up Power

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids rose from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017, the latest year for such data. Drug overdose deaths involving any opioid — prescription opioids (including methadone), synthetic opioids and heroin — rose from 18,515 deaths in 2007 to 47,600 deaths in 2017, according to the CDC. (VOA)

Next Story

17 US States File Lawsuit against Trump Administration over Rule Changes that Weakened Endangered Species Act

The attorneys general from 17 U.S. states have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over rule changes that weakened

US, States, Lawsuit
In this May 13, 2019 file photo provided by the National Park Service a female condor takes flight in Zion National Park, Utah. VOA

The attorneys general from 17 U.S. states have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over rule changes that weakened the Endangered Species Act.

Led by California, Maryland, and Massachusetts, the coalition of states filed the suit Wednesday in a federal court in San Francisco.  It follows a lawsuit filed last month by seven environmental and animal rights groups.

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it,”  California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger.”

The changes introduced by the Trump administration include requiring consideration of economic cost when deciding whether to save a species from extinction. The law currently says the cost to logging or oil interests will have no bearing on whether an animal or other species deserves protection.

US, States, Lawsuit
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responds to a lawmakers question during during his confirmation hearing, Jan. 10, 2017. VOA

The revised regulations would also end blanket protection for a species listed as threatened — a designation that is one step away from declaring it endangered — and reduce some wildlife habitat.

Conservation and wildlife groups call the changes U.S. President Donald Trump’s gift to logging, ranching, and oil industries, saying they take a bulldozer through protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has defended the changes as fitting “within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”

Also Read- ApoE: The Protein That Prevents Fractures From Healing in Older People

Environmentalists credit the 1973 Endangered Species Act with saving numerous animals, plants, and other species from extinction.

US, States, Lawsuit
FILE – US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 16, 2019, in Washington. VOA

About 1,600 species are currently protected by the act and the administration says streamlining regulations is the best way to ensure they will stay protected.

Also Read- “Love” Hormone, Reason Behind Obsessive Sex Drive

Republican President Richard Nixon signed the act into law in 1973 as part of the response to the new environmental awareness sweeping the country in the early 1970s, which included Earth Day and the Clear Water and Air acts. (VOA)