Oklahoma judge to rule in $17 billion opioid lawsuit against J&J

An Oklahoma judge on Monday will decide whether Johnson & Johnson should be held liable in a $17 billion lawsuit alleging the drugmaker’s marketing practices fueled the opioid epidemic by causing a flood of painkillers in the market.

The case by Oklahoma Attorney General Attorney General Mike Hunter was the first to go to trial out of thousands of cases brought by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Judge Thad Balkman, of Cleveland County District Court in Norman, Oklahoma, is scheduled to announce his decision from the bench at 4 p.m. EDT.

The litigation is being closely watched by plaintiffs in about 2,000 opioid lawsuits pending before a federal judge in Ohio who has been pushing for a settlement ahead of an October trial.

Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, some 6,000 Oklahomans have died from opioid overdoses, according to the state’s lawyers.

During a seven-week bench trial, lawyers for the state of Oklahoma argued that J&J carried out a years-long marketing campaign that minimized the addictive painkillers’ risks and promoted their benefits.

The state’s lawyers called J&J an opioid “kingpin” and argued that its marketing efforts created a public nuisance as doctors over-prescribed the drugs, leading to a surge in overdose deaths in Oklahoma.

J&J has denied wrongdoing. The drugmaker in court has said its marketing claims had scientific support and that its painkillers, Duragesic and Nucynta, made up a tiny fraction of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma.

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