Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

“The death toll is enormous,” Opioid policy researcher testifies as key witness in Oklahoma opioid trial

NORMAN, Okla. - Oklahoma is considered one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, according to an opioid policy researcher.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Researcher at Brandeis University, was called to the stand Tuesday in the state's case against Johnson & Johnson. The state is suing the nation's largest drugmaker and accusing them of playing a key role in the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic.

Kolodny, whose professional career has focused on the prescription opioid and heroin crisis, was presented as an expert witness Tuesday in the third week of bench trial. Kolodny said he agreed to work with the state after having a "front seat watching this problem slowly get worse over many years."

"The opioid crisis is, I think, the most significant public health crisis our country has faced possibly in its history — certainly since the Spanish flu epidemic. The death toll is enormous," he testified. "Oklahoma’s one of the hardest hit states in the country in terms overdose deaths, the rate of overdose deaths and in opioid prescribing and, in certain types of opioid prescribing, Oklahoma is at the very top of the list."

According to Kolodny, no other country compares to the United States in terms of opioid consumption. Despite that, he said there was "zero evidence" chronic pain is treated better in the United States.

State: "So, what in the world happened to cause this diversion from 1996 between the United States’ consumption and Europe?"

Kolodny: "We destroyed the dam of narcotic conservatism, and we flooded the country with opioids."

Michael Yoder with O'Melveny & Meyers LLP is an attorney for the defense counsel. Yoder argued Kolodny was not qualified to testify on what caused the epidemic.

"He’s not a statistician. He’s done no type of statistical analysis. He relies primarily on correlation, which is not the same as causation. It’s just not his area," he said. "He really hasn’t done the work that a true causation expert would do in order to offer those opinions."

Judge Thad Balkman overruled the defense's motion, allowing the testimony to proceed.

"Until I had an opportunity to review discovery documents you’ve shown me or documents I had found on my own, I really was not aware of how bad Johnson & Johnson was or how big of a player they’ve been in this whole crisis," Kolodny testified Tuesday.

The defense did not have a chance to cross-examine Kolodny. News 4 received this statement from Janssen and Johnson & Johnson's Oklahoma counsel John Sparks:

“The testimony of the State’s witness, Dr. Kolodny, was filled with rampant speculation and conclusions not derived from facts. He has acknowledged himself that he has no training or education in marketing. His petitions to the FDA have been explicitly rejected. And further, his comments on the production of medical-grade pharmaceutical ingredients under the regulation and authorization of the DEA and FDA are offensive, sensationalist, and baseless. 

Former subsidiaries Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids were governed by and complied with international and federal regulations at every stage of their supply chain, and every gram of active pharmaceutical ingredient was produced and sold pursuant to the DEA’s express regulatory authorization and quota system. ­­Additionally, as a supplier, those former subsidiaries did not have any role in the manufacturing, sales, or marketing of the finished products of any manufacturers.

The evidence remains that Johnson & Johnson and its former subsidiaries appropriately and responsibly met all laws and regulations on the manufacturing, sale and distribution of active pharmaceutical ingredients and pharmaceutical products and did everything you’d expect a responsible company to do.”

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