First Opioid Trial Against Manufacturer by State Under Way in Oklahoma

May 29, 2019

In the first of many similar cases, the trial of Oklahoma versus Johnson & Johnson could frame who is to blame for the opioid epidemic.

Even after the Trump Administration declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in 2017, more than 130 people still die of opioid overdoses every day in the United States.

As providers and payers take steps to curb the epidemic, lawmakers are trying to determine who is to blame for the ongoing epidemic.

Part of that effort has been a recent surge of states suing pharmaceutical manufacturers, with states attempting to make them shoulder the costs of the opioid epidemic. Those costs are staggering: the average cost per overdose patient is $18,000, resulting in a $28.9 billion annual price tag for direct health costs alone.

As part of that trend, the state of Oklahoma is suing Johnson & Johnson, accusing them of using deceptive marketing techniques designed to drive use that in turn led to addiction. It will be the first case of the around 2,000 cases brought forth by state, local, and tribal governments to actually go to trial. Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, also included in the suit, settled with the state earlier-Teva for $85 million last Sunday and Purdue for $270 million in March.

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Reggie Whitten, a lawyer for the state, told Reuters that the crisis could end up costing the state $13 billion over the next 20 years.

Larry Ottaway, a lawyer for Johnson & Johnson, in turn said that the company’s marketing did not differ from claims made by the FDA in 2009, which said that opioid rarely cause addiction if managed properly.

In a press release, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that he is looking forward to the trial, saying that “Nearly all Oklahomans have been negatively impacted by this deadly crisis and we look forward to [the trial], where we will prove our case against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries.”

Nicholas Hamm is an editor with Managed Healthcare Executive