Summary of Oklahoma Opioid Decision

Oklahoma Opioid Decision by Phillips Murrah healthcare attorney Mary Holloway

Mary Holloway Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in healthcare law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as The following patients and their families.

The following summary of the Oklahoma opioid decision is also published at Lexology.com.

The decision in the non-jury trial, Oklahoma ex rel. Mike Hunter, Attorney General of Oklahoma v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al was filed on August 26, 2019.  The trial, which lasted for thirty-three days, focused on the State’s sole claim against the defendants for public nuisance under state statute, during which forty-two witnesses were called by the parties and 874 exhibits were submitted into evidence, along with 225 additional court exhibits.

In the first such decision in the United States among a plethora of cases filed across the nation, the Court held that the State had met its burden of proof that the defendant, Johnson & Johnson, was the cause-in-fact of the extensively described injuries, and that the harm suffered was the kind recognized by the state law. Purdue and Teva Pharmaceuticals settled prior to trial. The court found no intervening causes to defeat a finding of direct and proximate cause.

Testimony ran the gamut of describing the development of opioids in the 1950’s and research and development that occurred from the 1990s until recent years, and it focused on what the Court considered intentionally misleading marketing information and activities. It is noteworthy that the Court included in its findings that there was no opioid epidemic in Oklahoma through the mid-1990s, according to the state Commissioner of Mental Health.

The Court found that “Defendants, acting in concert with others, embarked on a major campaign in which they used branded and unbranded marketing to disseminate the messages that pain was being undertreated and ‘there was a low risk of abuse and a low danger’…designed to reach Oklahoma doctors through multiple means and at multiple times over the course of the doctor’s professional education and career” in the state.  The defendants were found to have deceptively marketed the concepts of “undertreatment” and “pseudoaddiction” in the effort to avoid the “addiction ditch,” to increase the volume of prescriptions and increase use by state physicians.

An Abatement Plan was relied upon to represent the cost of addiction treatment included in the: assessment and treatment at all levels for addicted individuals; supplementary treatment; public medication and disposal programs; screening; Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) for all primary care practices and emergency departments; universal screening; pain management program for state Medicaid members; education; naloxone treatment and education; law enforcement and provider licensure agency investigation activities; and perinatal preventive services.

The total yearly costs for remediation as described to the Court for 2019 is $572,102,028.  While State witnesses testified that the abatement Plan will require twenty years, the Court found that “…the State did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary, beyond year one, to abate the Opioid Crisis.” Oklahoma ex rel. v. Purdue Pharma L.P. et al at 41.

In a news release, counsel for Johnson & Johnson stated that it is confident that it has strong grounds for an appeal. This decision is expected to influence the settlement talks taking place in Ohio currently related to thousands of pending lawsuits against twenty-two opioid manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue.