Oklahoma judge rejects dismissal requests in opioid lawsuit

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
05/26/2019 02:00 PM
NORMAN (AP) – A judge has ruled that Oklahoma’s multibillion dollar lawsuit against opioid producers will proceed.

Pharmaceutical companies had argued that the state tried to misuse public nuisance laws. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman on May 13 rejected that claim, The Oklahoman reported.

“Last week, we heard more arguments and excuses by the defendants as to why this case should not be heard,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. “The Oklahoma Supreme Court and now, on multiple occasions, Judge Balkman, has said this case should proceed to trial. These rulings were made based on the rule of law and the merits of our case.”

The maker of OxyContin and the company’s controlling family agreed in March to pay Oklahoma a groundbreaking $270 million to settle allegations that they helped create the nation’s deadly opioid crisis with aggressive marketing.

The settlement resulted in bipartisan criticism from state lawmakers who said Hunter overstepped his authority in allocation of funds.

Hunter subsequently dropped some claims in the state’s lawsuit against other drugmakers in an effort to recover the cost of opioid abuse.

Estimations executed at the request of the state show Oklahoma’s damages to be in the “tens of billions of dollars,” Hunter said.

Drug companies argue it is unfair to try to hold opioid manufacturers financially accountable for the opioid epidemic, contending that street drugs distributed by international drug cartels, doctors who overprescribe and the state’s failure to enforce its own drug statutes have contributed to the issue.

The trial is drawing global attention since it has the earliest planned trial date of hundreds of lawsuits filed by cities, counties, Native American tribes and other entities that are trying to recuperate billions of dollars in damages from manufacturers that are part of the opioid supply chain. Around 1,600 of those cases reportedly have been combined in a multidistrict federal case in Ohio. Oklahoma is one of about three dozen states that have filed lawsuits in state courts aiming to have local juries or judges decide the outcome.

The bench trial was slated to begin May 28.

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