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Lawsuit against opioid manufacturers moves forward in Oklahoma court

NORMAN, Okla. - A judge has denied the motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against pharmaceutical companies.

After a four-hour hearing in Cleveland County court Tuesday, Judge Thad Balkman ruled the lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter will move forward in litigation.

The complaint, originally filed in June, lists several companies including Purdue Pharma. The state claims companies have made billions through their “deceptive and misleading” opioid marketing campaign, convincing doctors and consumers there is a low risk of addiction with long-term opioid use.

“One way to expand the market beyond a niche for cancer patients, the terminally ill, and acute short-term pain and persuade medical professors to prescribe more opioids to a broader range of patients with chronic, non-cancer related pain,” the lawsuit states. “To convince medical professors to prescribe more opioids to a broader range of patients, Defendants elected to falsely downplay the risk of opioid addiction and overstate the efficacy of opioids for more wide-ranging conditions.”

Speaking to reporters afterwards, lead counsel for the state Michael Burrage called Tuesday’s hearing a “victory."

The state made it a point to argue the case is not based off mislabels, but marketing.

“What happened is a systemic campaign funded by millions of dollars to make misrepresentation to these doctors and it wasn’t just through drug reps. They had key opinion leaders to go out and to talk to the doctors,” explained Burrage.

In court Tuesday, an attorney for Purdue Pharma argued claims made by the state were preemptive. To be approved as a drug, it must go through the FDA. The defense added the general language about addiction is already labeled.

Attorney General Mike Hunter released a statement regarding the ruling saying:

“We appreciate the care with which Judge Balkman evaluated the motions to dismiss and our response, and applaud his decision to move the case forward. My team and I look forward to the next phase of this important case.

Through decades of fraudulent marketing campaigns to doctors and consumers, these companies have been the driving force in the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, an epidemic that claimed more than 64,000 lives last year alone.

Oklahoma continues to suffer greatly because of it. In the last three years, nearly 3,000 Oklahomans have died from overdoses and more than 1,300 newborns have tested positive for substance exposure. The opioid crisis has created a generation of addicts, who continue to struggle on a daily basis.

These companies put profits over people and we intend to hold them accountable.”

Both legal counsels will return in January to set a court date. The state is requesting May 2019.