Going to Court: Is ‘Big Pharma’ Responsible for the Opioid Crisis?

Going to Court: Is ‘Big Pharma’ Responsible for the Opioid Crisis?
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The first major trial of whether pharmaceutical companies bear responsibility for the opioid crisis is slated to start in Oklahoma on May 28.  Three major drug manufacturers and 10 of their subsidiaries tried to convince Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman to delay the jury trial for 100 days, but Balkman ruled that it will move forward as scheduled. [1]

Following a nearly 2-hour hearing in his Norman, Oklahoma, courtroom, Balkman said:

“The wheels of justice … will continue to grind toward a trial date of May 28, 2019.”

Lawyers for the companies say they will appeal the judge’s decision.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma, maker of the blockbuster drug OxyContin, said it was “disappointed the court has denied its motion for a continuance. The facts show clearly that the state of Oklahoma has repeatedly failed to meet its obligations to produce critical information and documents to Purdue and the other defendants in this case.”

Purdue accused the state’s privacy attorneys of “flagrantly” violating court orders to turn over the material, “which has unfairly prejudiced Purdue’s ability to adequately prepare our defenses.”

Read: This 1980 Letter from Researchers Helped Fuel the Opioid Epidemic

The judge further enraged the drug companies by saying he will permit cameras in the courtroom.

The trial stems from a lawsuit brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter against some of the largest opioid manufacturers in the nation that alleges the companies’ deceptive marketing practices over the past decade fueled the opioid epidemic in that state. Hunter claims that Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, and others deceived the public into believing that opioids were safe for extended use. [2]

In response to the defendants’ claims that state attorneys had been “stonewalling” discovery for the past year, the attorney general called the drug companies “desperate” and grasping “at whatever straws they can find.”

In a court filing, Hunter wrote:

“The State did not manufacture opioids. The State did not target veterans. The State did not target legislators. The State did not target doctors. The defendants did all that.”

Read: Study Shows How Doctors GET PAID to Fuel the Opioid Crisis

So far, 36 states have filed cases against pharmaceutical companies in state courts. The remaining 14 states are mulling bringing cases of their own. The Oklahoma case will be the first to reach trial.

In the past 3 years, 3,000 people have died of overdoses and more than 1,300 newborns have tested positive for the highly addictive painkillers in Oklahoma alone, the state attorney general’s office said.

In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


[1] Washington Post

[2] CNN