NORMAN, Okla. -- Attorneys have requested a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies be heard in separate phases.
The lawsuit was first filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter in June 2017. 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.
Former U.S. District Judge Michael Burrage is serving as lead counsel for the State of Oklahoma. Prior to a scheduled status conference in court Friday, Burrage said they filed a motion to bifurcate the trial meaning the case could be heard in sections.
"We’ve asked that the 'nuisance' case be held on the May date and the other claims, set for a later date such as the False Claims Act," explained Burrage.
The motion filed request states the number of Oklahomans suffering from the opioid epidemic increases every day.
"Since 2009 in Oklahoma, the epidemic has killed more people than vehicular accidents. Nearly 10 Oklahomans die every week. The process to abate and reverse the devastating effects of this public nuisance must start as soon as possible," court documents state.
In June, the case was put on hold after one of the listed defendants asked a federal judge to move the case to federal court. Purdue Pharma filed the motion, claiming the state was trying to replace federal FDA regulations with how the state views the drugs should be regulated, labeled, and marketed.
The company is being represented by Sandy Coats, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Last week, AG Hunter announced U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange granted the motion to remand which returned the lawsuit back to Cleveland County. The case will now be heard by Judge Thad Balkman in Cleveland County.
"We lost that time and so, during that period of time...there was nothing going on in the case and if it’s bifurcated then the trial can be made limit issues. Not have as many issues to try and go ahead and try the significant part of the case — the nuisance and start trying to get some remedies fashioned," Burrage explained.
In court Friday, attorneys for both the defendants as well as the plaintiffs alleged there were documents that failed to be provided from both sides.
Defendants said the state needs to provide the names of doctors and patients in question, so they can properly defend themselves; however, the state said they did not think medical records should be made public.
"What information they need from their medical charts can be obtained without using their name. They can see what their conditions were. What the treatment was — what medications they were given. How opioids were being used," Burrage said.
Meanwhile, the state is asking defendants to provide marketing materials that either sent or used by groups with ties to the pharmaceutical companies.
"Like the American Pain Foundation..these type of third type of third party organizations were created and funded by the opioid manufacturers," Burrage said. "Key opinion leaders who go out, these doctors tout the opioids and what they can do, that they’re not addictive, documents related to that."
Judge Balkman has set a new hearing on the matter on August 30.
To find the ruling by Judge Miles-LaGrange, click here.