Oklahoma, Johnson & Johnson face off in trial against drugmakers blamed for role in opioid crisis

The spotlight is on Oklahoma this week as the nation’s first trial against drugmakers blamed for contributing to the opioid crisis takes place.

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Opening arguments started Tuesday with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter saying powerful painkillers led to the “worst manmade public health crisis” in U.S. history. Lawyers for consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson and several subsidiaries, including Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, are slated to begin making their case later Tuesday at state court in Norman, Okla.

Hunter alleges drugmakers Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. helped create deceptive marketing campaigns that overstated opioids’ effectiveness and underplayed the risk of addiction, Reuters reported.

The state has settled with Purdue and Teva leaving Johnson & Johnson last. Teva announced Sunday it settled for $85 million. Purdue settled with the state in March for $270 million.

"The damage defendants' false and deceptive marketing campaigns caused to the state of Oklahoma is catastrophic," the lawsuit stated. "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."

Johnson & Johnson marketed painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta. Oklahoma claimed the company “created an oversupply of painkillers and a public nuisance that will cost $12.57 billion to $17.5 billion to remedy,” Reuters reported.

The outcome of the trial could pave the way for some 1,500 opioid trials to be resolved. The trial could also expose documents and testimony that show what the companies knew, when they knew it and how they responded.

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Opioids were “involved in” more than 47,600 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017, making up approximately 67.8 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Johnson & Johnson has denied wrongdoing and said in a statement Sunday that it was “ready for trial.”

In a statement to Fox News Network, John Sparks, the Oklahoma counsel for Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Johnson & Johnson said, "Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. What’s important in this trial is that the evidence takes center stage. The State hasn’t even tried to show that the Company’s products are a cause of the crisis. We look forward to presenting our case."

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Janssen Pharmaceuticals said in a statement to Fox News Network, "Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible. 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. In fact, since 2008, our opioid medications have accounted for less than one percent of the U.S. market for this class of medications (including generics). Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.