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Friday 23 August 2019

First US state trial against opioid makers under way

Oklahoma claims drug firms marketed addictive opioids for years in a way that overstated their effectiveness and underplayed the addiction risk.

Judge Thad Balkman listens during opening arguments (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Judge Thad Balkman listens during opening arguments (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

By Associated Press Reporter

America’s first state trial against drug manufacturers blamed for contributing to the opioid crisis has started in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter started opening arguments by saying powerful painkillers have led to the “worst manmade public health crisis” in US history.

The state alleges drug firms extensively marketed highly addictive opioids for years in a way that overstated their effectiveness and underplayed the risk of addiction.

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Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

“This crisis is devastating Oklahoma,” Mr Hunter said, adding that opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.

Drug makers deny Oklahoma’s claims. The companies maintain that they are part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry that is subject to strict federal oversight, and that doctors are the ones who prescribe the drugs.

Much of the opioid crisis, they argue, is the result of illegal activity, such as drugs being stolen or obtained fraudulently.

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OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma has already settled with Oklahoma (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Lawyers for consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson and several subsidiaries are expected to start making their case. Two other companies, OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, have already settled with Oklahoma.

The trial could bring to light documents and evidence that show what the companies knew, when they knew it and how they responded.

A federal judge in Ohio is overseeing the 1,500 consolidated opioid lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments.

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