The $17 billion lawsuit the state of Oklahoma has filed against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, is now awaiting a decision by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman. As the 7-week trial wound down to a conclusion on Monday, July 15, attorneys for the state and J&J presented their closing arguments, thus concluding a high profile case that featured unique arguments concerning the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic.

Oklahoma’s case against Johnson & Johnson

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a lawsuit against J&J alleging that the company bears financial responsibility for the state’s opioid crisis under its nuisance law. The suit asserts the company is obligated to pay billions of dollars to fund a plan to address and fix the crisis. Historically, the nuisance legal theory has been used to resolve minor property disputes, such as those involving loud noises, bright lights, or harmful odors. Judge Balkman is expected to reach a decision in the case by the end of August.

The state asserts that Johnson & Johnston minimized the risk of opioids, exaggerating their benefits and encouraging off label uses. These actions, according to the lawsuit, led directly to an avalanche of opioid overdoses and addiction. Across the nation, similar lawsuits brought by cities and states against other opioid manufacturers have sought to determine the financial costs of the epidemic and hold particular drug companies accountable.

The state of Oklahoma alleges that individuals were influenced through manipulation into believing the opioid drugs offered by Johnson & Johnson were safe for use over the long term. According to testimony provided by Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, J&J pressured physicians to prescribe opioid painkillers at the same time the addictive nature and threat of the drugs became evident more than a decade ago.

Johnson & Johnson asserts its innocence

Johnson & Johnson has countered the allegations, asserting that its medications are not responsible for the complex opioid crisis. The attorneys for the company contend that its entire manufacturing and supply process is stringently regulated and that the opioid drugs dispensed by the company only account for a small percentage of opioid prescriptions throughout Oklahoma.

The goal of prosecutors is to recover damages for the state it has incurred from J&J’s marketing of opioid drugs over a number of years, fueling the opioid addiction crisis. The state is seeking $13 billion in damages from J&J to handle current and future costs associated with opioid addiction treatment and prevention services. The opioid abatement plan includes financial resources for overdose prevention programs, education of the medical community and public, and treatment for addiction.

One of the last witnesses to testify for Johnson & Johnson was Terrell Phillips, president of the Oklahoma Pain Society. In his testimony, he blamed Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation laws for pressuring doctors into prescribing opioids in certain cases where doctors may prefer other courses of treatment for their patients.

Phillips testified that when a chronic pain patient under workers’ compensation has been placed under continued medical maintenance, the law only allows doctors to receive reimbursement for necessary and reasonable treatment – and unfortunately that excludes such treatment options as injections, surgery, diagnostic tests, and physical therapy.

Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation overall and opioid treatment

The state of Oklahoma recently revamped its workers’ compensation program, which includes a multitude of changes that affect administrative procedures, cost containment, medical care, and benefits reform. However, the bill has yet to be signed by the Governor. Among the changes include a provision that permits an administrative law judge to require an employer to provide employees who have been prescribed opioids or other types of narcotics with detoxification treatment. The judge may stop the pain medication management services after a notice and hearing if the employee refuses to receive the treatment.

Research conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports the view held by Phillips. It reveals that the fatal opioid related overdose rate was higher for employees who operate in industries with elevated injury rates – for example, those working in construction.

If you or a loved one has taken prescribed opioid medications that resulted in an addiction or overdose, our personal injury attorneys at Cunningham & Mears are here to support you with strong and compassionate representation. We can fight to pursue any and all compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses. To arrange a free consultation, call us today at 405.212.9234 or drop us a message through our contact form.