NORMAN — The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office’s lawsuit against several prominent opioid manufacturers is set for trial.
On Jan. 11, Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman set a May 28, 2019, trial date, making it the first case out of several similar pending lawsuits in the United States to get a trial date.
With Balkman’s decision, the state can now start gathering evidence to support its claims against Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Teva and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, claims that allege the companies misrepresented the risks of addiction of their products.
Attorney General Mike Hunter is eager to present the state’s case.
“We appreciate the urgency Judge Balkman saw in getting the case to trial,” Hunter said. “Rather than dragging it out longer, which is what the companies had requested, Oklahomans who have suffered immeasurably from the years of fraudulent marketing campaigns will see this case resolved sooner rather than later.”
In addition to his ruling in regard to a trial date, Balkman asked the parties to work together and decide on a judicial master. The special master will work to ensure efficiency in the court system by resolving evidence disputes.
If the parties can’t decide on who it will be, Balkman will make the selection.
Hunter claims the state’s cause is strong, and he said his team is prepared to hold the companies accountable for their role in what he called “the deadliest drug epidemic the state and nation have ever seen.”
The companies requested an April 2020 trial date during last week’s hearing, but they released statements expressing they will be ready for the May 2019 court date.
“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” a Purdue Pharma statement read.
Jessica Castles Smith, a Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. spokesperson, said the allegations against Janssen have no basis in fact, legally or factually.
“Janssen has acted in the best interests of patients and physicians with regard to its opioid pain medicines, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about possible risks on every product label,” she said.
Smith said Janssen will continue to work with federal, state and local officials to support solutions.
Cleveland County isn’t the only Oklahoma entity in a fight with the pharmaceutical industry.
The Cherokee Nation filed a suit against six wholesale drug distributors and pharmacies in April, accusing them of aiding in the widespread opioid epidemic.
The Nation lost a small fight last week when U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruled the tribal court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The case will have to be tried in state court.