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Oklahoma: Johnson & Johnson are kingpin of pharmaceutical cartel

Christian Fernsby |
Lawyers for the state of Oklahoma compared Johnson & Johnson to a drug cartel leader as they sought to hold the drugmaker responsible for fueling the U.S. opioid epidemic in the first trial to result from lawsuits over the crisis.

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Lawyers for the state, including Attorney General Mike Hunter, told a judge in Norman, Oklahoma that J&J’s “greed” led the drugmaker to carry out a years-long marketing effort that caused “utter confusion” about the addictive painkillers’ risks.

Brad Beckworth, a lawyer for the state, in his closing argument said J&J knew opioids were harmful, yet minimized their risk of addiction, resulting in a surge in overdose deaths as doctors overprescribed the drugs and they flooded the state.

“They didn’t get here from a Mexican cartel,” Beckworth said. “They got here from the pharmaceutical cartel, and the kingpin of them all is Johnson & Johnson.”

Hunter, who sued J&J in 2017, said the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company does not dispute the crisis exists, yet “they blame everyone but themselves.”

The state urged Judge Thad Balkman, who presided over the nonjury trial for six weeks, to find J&J liable for creating a public nuisance and force it to pay up to $17 billion over 30 years to address the epidemic.

J&J denies causing the epidemic. Its lawyers have argued that its products made up a small share of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma and carried U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks.

The case is one of around 2,000 actions by state and local governments accusing drug manufacturers of contributing to the opioid epidemic. Opioids were linked to a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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