An Oklahoma judge has dismissed Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) request to toss out the state attorney general’s lawsuit over the opioid crisis. Judge Thad Balkman dismissed the motion, ruling that the state presented sufficient evidence to continue the trial.
In the heated hearing, J&J tried to argue that the state’s attempt to sue under a public nuisance statute was incorrect because the law intended to address property disputes and other similar problems.
J&J’s counsel argued that the company’s promotion of opioids was protected under the first amendment as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling that prevents the government from restricting corporate spending on political advertising.
Brad Beckworth, the state’s lawyer, dismissed the free speech argument.
“No man or woman has ever laid down their life for this country so that a pharmaceutical company could come out and lie or hook kids on opioids,” said Beckworth.
The judge ruled on the motion within minutes of hearing arguments.
“With regards to the defendants’ motion for judgment, taking into consideration evidence that was presented by the state during its case in chief and briefs filed and hearing oral arguments, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence that the state’s nuisance claim should continue. The motion is denied and the trial will proceed,” said Balkman.
J&J also claimed that the state failed to prove that Janssen, a subsidiary of J&J, played a role in the crisis because its drugs only accounted for a fraction of the market.
Over the last month, the state has presented evidence that J&J played a leading role in creating the opioid epidemic using deceptive marketing strategies that downplayed the risk of opioid addiction to doctors. The state also alleges that J&J pushed the prescription of strong narcotics to patients who didn’t need them, and manipulated medical research.
The opioid epidemic has claimed more than 400,000 lives over the last two decades.
The judge’s ruling will bolster other lawsuits in the pipeline against J&J and other opioid manufacturers, pharmacies and drug distributors.