It’s obvious that strategic changes are needed to tackle our state and national opioid crisis.
Oklahoma Attorney General Hunter has hoped the state could receive a sizable judgment to set up a settlement akin to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Trust.
The high-profile opioid trial has national implications as it plays out in a Cleveland County courtroom. The civil case is an non-jury trial, which means Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman will make a finding in the case, as opposed to a jury returning a verdict.
This is the first to go to trial of some 2,000 lawsuits filed by states, local governments and Native American tribes alleging the pharmaceutical industry helped fuel the opioid crisis. Reuters reports municipal and state governments sued drugmakers in federal court in Ohio, where that judge is pushing for a settlement before the trial scheduled there in October.
Paul Hanly, a lead attorney for plaintiffs in the Ohio litigation, told Reuters anyone who cares about public health issues should care about the industry’s fate in the Oklahoma case. It’s a big deal.
Purdue Pharma, the company that produces the opioid OxyContin, reached a $270 million settlement with Hunter’s office last March. An $85 million settlement with Teva Pharmaceuticals was announced last month.
Johnson & Johnson, which manufactures the opioid pill Nucynta and the fentanyl patch Duragesic, is the lone defendant. Hunter’s team asserts the company contributed to a public nuisance, which could cost up to $17.5 billion over the next 30 years.
J&J attorneys have said the company only made two products — both designed to reduce the likelihood of abuse or diversion — comprising a tiny market share of opioids sold in Oklahoma over the past several decades, and that the drugs were regulated and approved at the state and federal level.
With hundreds of pending cases, the nation is vigilantly watching Oklahoma’s strategy.
“This case will set a precedent,” University of Kentucky law professor Richard Ausness told National Public Radio. “If Oklahoma loses — of course, they’ll appeal if they lose — but the defendants may have to reconsider their strategy.”
By going it alone — and not joining a bigger, consolidated case — Hunter is gambling for a quicker resolution for Oklahoma versus winning no additional money.
“Particularly when we’re talking about [attorneys general], who are politicians, who want to be able to tell the people, ‘Gee, this is what I’ve done for you.’ They are not interested in waiting two or three years [for a settlement], they want it now,” Ausness said. “Of course, the risk of that is you may lose.”
Oklahoma may win big or gain nothing more. Stay tuned.