Judge denies Johnson & Johnson’s motion request to end opioid trial

Johnson & Johnson has to pay $8 billion, jury decides
Emmanuel Tambakakis/CNN

An ongoing lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for its part in the opioid crisis will continue after the company’s effort to have the case dismissed was denied by a judge Monday.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman denied a motion to toss the lawsuit, which accuses Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries of creating a public nuisance and costing the state of Oklahoma billions of dollars.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter told the court during proceedings that 4,653 Oklahomans died of unintentional overdoses involving prescription opioids from 2007 to 2017, and that there were more than 28,000 admissions for opioid and heroin treatment through state services from 2012 to 2018.

As a result, the state has presented a $17.5 billion abatement plan over 30 years to fix the opioid epidemic.

Last week Johnson & Johnson filed a motion to end the case, saying that the company was made a “scapegoat” in the lawsuit. In the motion, lawyers called the state’s effort a “slew of illogical, legally defective theories far outside the bounds of Oklahoma precedent.”

Brad Beckworth, one of the lead attorneys for the state of Oklahoma, called the motion to dismiss a public relations stunt on the part of Johnson & Johnson and said the governor and other state leaders would “stand arm in arm with us” knowing that “we are doing the right thing under Oklahoma law.”

The state rested its case last week after calling 28 witnesses over six weeks.

Oklahoma is just one of several states that has sued drugmakers including Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals and other companies for their role in the opioid crisis.

The state has already reached settlements with two other opioid drugmakers: a $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, and an $85 million settlement with Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest makers of generic drugs.

Following the denial, John Sparks, Oklahoma counsel for Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), released a statement saying in part, “Despite the complexity of the problem (of the opioid crisis), the State of Oklahoma is attempting to have Janssen alone pay for extraordinary government spending without offering evidence that our companies were the cause of the state’s opioid crisis.”

The statement continued to say that the company believes it did everything it was supposed to do as a manufacturer of prescriptions.

“The State’s over-reaching interpretation of the statute is unsustainable and will force the State into uncharted legal waters long after this case is decided,” Sparks said.

CNN’s Emily Bass, Wayne Drash and Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.