'The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has a legal case to answer over accusations it drove the US opioid epidemic now claiming 130 lives a day, an Oklahoma judge has ruled.
After a fiery hearing on Monday, with accusations of lying, Judge Thad Balkman dismissed a motion by the company to toss out a multi-billion dollar lawsuit by Oklahoma’s attorney general. Balkman said the state has presented sufficient evidence for the trial to continue.
The state has spent the past month laying out evidence alleging that Johnson & Johnson played a leading role in creating the epidemic with marketing strategies that dangerously misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction to doctors, manipulated medical research and drove prescribing of high strength narcotics to patients who didn’t need them.
The Oklahoma ruling will bolster hundreds of other lawsuits in the pipeline against leading opioid makers, drug distributors and pharmacy chains by counties, cities and states across the US blighted by an epidemic estimated to have claimed more than 400,000 lives over the past two decades.
On Monday, Johnson & Johnson argued that Oklahoma’s attempt to sue it under a public nuisance statute was wrong because the law was intended to address problems such as property disputes. The company’s lawyer, Stephen Brody, argued that if the state were to prevail, then public nuisance laws could be used to make McDonald’s pay for the obesity crisis, gun manufacturers for shootings, and the oil industry for climate change.
Brody also said Johnson & Johnson’s promotion of opioids was protected by the first amendment and the supreme court’s landmark Citizens United ruling, which prevents the government from restricting corporate spending on political advertising.
Brody added that the state failed to prove that Johnson & Johnson’s opioid subsidiary, Janssen, played any role in causing the epidemic because its drugs were only a fraction of the market.
The state’s lawyer, Brad Beckworth, was visibly angry as he repeatedly accused the company of lying.'
Read more: Judge dismisses Johnson & Johnson's request to toss out lawsuit over opioids crisis
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