The first major test in the nation of whether a state can make a pharmaceutical company pay for the opioid epidemic opened in Oklahoma on May 28.
The state’s Attorney General Mike Hunter accused drug-makers of a “cynical, deceitful multi-million dollar, brainwashing campaign to establish opioid analgesics as the magic drug.”
This is the first major test in the nation of whether a state can make a pharmaceutical company pay for the opioid epidemic.
The trial is expected to provide a highway map for other states and municipalities in holding drug-makers accountable for what Hunter told the court was “the worst man-made public health crisis in the history of our country and the state — the prescription opioid epidemic.”
“To put it bluntly,” he said, “this crisis is devastating Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma ranked seventh in the nation for prescription pain reliever abuse for children between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2013, and hundreds of babies are diagnosed with opioid-related neonatal abstinence syndrome each year.
Hunter said that trial evidence will show 4,653 Oklahomans died of unintentional overdoses involving prescription opioids from 2007 to 2017, and that there were more than 28,000 admissions for opioid and heroin treatment through state services from 2012 to 2018.
“The pain, anguish and heartbreak (of) Oklahoma families, businesses, communities and individual Oklahomans is almost impossible to comprehend,” Hunter told the court. “How did this happen? At the end of the day, your honor, I have a short, one-word answer: Greed. It’s time to hold them responsible for their actions.”
Johnson & Johnson has denied the charges levied by the state.
There are some 2,000 lawsuits brought by states, cities and Native American territories across the country, all seeking compensation from makers of the highly addictive prescription painkillers.
The lawsuits are being compared to the 1998 cases against big tobacco, which ended in a 46-state overarching settlement estimated at $250 billion in annual payments over the first 25 years of it being in force.
In the Oklahoma lawsuit, Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva, on Sunday, settled the case for $85 million.
Purdue Pharma, maker of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, a key driver of the crisis, reached a $270 million settlement with the state in March.
Overdoses from prescription painkillers and heroin exploded over the last 20 years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Almost 400,000 people have died from an overdoses involving prescription or illicit opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This initial trial may lead the way to end the opioid dilemma, but that’s not a sure thing.