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Johnson & Johnson Opioid Trial Begins in Oklahoma Lawsuit

Drugmakers named in the lawsuit denied claims made by the state

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Amazon is Being Sued for Recording Children’s Voices with Alexa

The complaint claims that children cannot consent to be recorded

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Lawsuit, Amazon, Alexa
The woman has alleged the e-commerce giant for illegally recording children. Flickr

In yet another lawsuit, Amazon has been sued by a Massachusetts woman, who on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter and children from eight other states, is seeking class-action status to sue the e-commerce giant.

Filed in a Federal court in Seattle, the lawsuit alleges Amazon of saving ‘voice prints’ of millions of children by unlawfully recording their conversations around Alexa-enabled smart devices, Vox news reported on Friday.

The woman has alleged the e-commerce giant for illegally recording children and adding them to “a massive database of billions of voice recordings containing the private details of millions of Americans”.

The complaint claims that children cannot consent to be recorded and do not comprehend the “potentially invasive uses of big data by a company the size of Amazon” and that they “use Alexa without any understanding or warning that Amazon is recording and voice-printing them”, the report said.

Lawsuit, Amazon, Alexa
The lawsuit alleges Amazon of saving ‘voice prints’ of millions of children by unlawfully recording their conversations around Alexa-enabled smart devices. Pixabay

The complainant says she bought an Alexa Echo Dot device in 2018 and was not given reason to believe that her child would be recorded.

“Customers set up their Echo devices and we give them easy-to-use tools to manage them, including the ability to review and delete the voice recordings associated with their account,” the report quoted an Amazon spokesperson as saying.

The spokesperson also highlighted a company blog-post that discusses ‘Amazon FreeTime’ — a dedicated service launched in 2012 to help parents manage the ways their kids interact with technology, including limiting screen time.

However, this is not the first time that the e-commerce giant was accused of violating kids’ privacy with Alexa.

Earlier in May, US Senators and a group of 19 consumer and public health advocates accused Amazon for recording and saving conversations that take place around its smart speakers, urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate into the case.

Fighting privacy concerns and data collection suspicions, later in May, Amazon added support for new voice commands to let users ask Alexa to delete previous voice recordings.

To ensure security and privacy of users, the company is also launching ‘Alexa Privacy Hub’ which is supposed to offer an easy way to learn how Alexa works and find privacy controls.