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Closing arguments end in historic Oklahoma opioid trial

NORMAN, Okla. - After eight weeks of testimony, attorneys for the state and the nation's largest drug maker have made their final arguments in a historic bench trial.

Johnson & Johnson is accused of fueling the opioid crisis in the state of Oklahoma by oversupplying painkillers through deceptive marketing and downplaying the risks of addiction.

"This company cut and ran. They took the money, and they ran and they’ve left us here holding the body bags," attorney Brad Beckworth said during closing arguments. "This is the worst crisis, the worst public health problem Oklahoma has ever seen. It’s a man-made crisis, but it is a drug company crisis and it begins and it should end with them. They make the mutant poppy that started this thing. They work hand in hand with Purdue to make it happen."

Beckworth, who represented the state in the weeks-long trial, said the defense's case "defied logic" and "was nothing more than a sham."

"Don’t buy that this was a good company. In the context of this case, it is not a good company. The folks that wanted to build this billion dollar pain franchise, that was not a good company," he told Judge Thad Balkman. "This was a company that not only ignored history, they ignored their own scientific advisors. They turned this state upside down."

The company has hammered the claim they marketed and promoted medicines responsibly following both federal law and regulations.

"Don’t tell me that doctors weren’t aware — that Oklahoma doctors weren’t aware of the risks. The marketing aids used by these people all contain the FDA labels or the information from them," defense attorney Larry Ottaway said. "Oklahoma and America, unfortunately, have a drug problem. I wish we could snap our finger or pump our tie and cure it. We cannot."

Ottaway went on to suggest the state's abatement plan seeking $17 billion was not well thought out. During the trial, expert witnesses called by the state said they believe it could take 30 years to fully "clean up" the problem.

"Are these costs going to continue? Are these services not magically going to disappear on January 1, 2049?" Ottaway questioned. "The plan has not been developed yet. The evaluation of this abatement — we don’t even know how we’re going to do it. It seeks billions of dollars for services already provided. That’s not damages. That's a penalty."

Speaking with reporters following adjournment, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said he felt confident in the state's case.

"We had a job to do. I’m confident on behalf of the state of Oklahoma that we did our job," Hunter said. "I think, for the closing statement, let’s be clear. Larry Ottaway is a fine lawyer, but that’s the most skillful application of lipstick to a pig I think I’ve ever witnessed."

Hunter pointed to Dr. Timothy Fong, one of the defense's expert witnesses, as of the "defining moments."

"He has presented a lecture in which in a very passionate precise way he blamed the opioid manufacturing company for the crisis in this country, so as far as I’m concerned that expert witness almost made our case for us," he said.

It could be more than a month before Balkman returns with his decision.

The legal team for Johnson & Johnson released the following statements Monday afternoon:

Statement from John Sparks, Oklahoma counsel for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson:

"Throughout trial, our team repeatedly laid waste to the State’s case which it built on misstatements and distortions. The facts are that Janssen appropriately provided essential pain treatment options to Oklahomans while balancing the inherent risks associated with these medicines.

The evidence presented by the State does not support its sweeping allegations. Instead, they unfairly and improperly continue to pursue their unsustainable case – with broad ramifications for industry – by asking the court to legislate and arbitrate this incredibly complex public health problem.

Janssen and Johnson & Johnson will continue to work towards meaningful solutions, outside of the courtroom. We respectfully await the judge’s decision."

Statement attributed to Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: 

"We recognize that opioid abuse and addiction in Oklahoma and across the United States is a complex and serious problem, and it requires all of us – companies, scientists, frontline health care professionals, regulators and policymakers – to work together. Public health issues require public health solutions, and we are committed to participating in the ongoing efforts.

In this litigation, the evidence showed that our company responsibly marketed and promoted our prescription opioid medicines, appropriately following the law and regulatory process. We did what a responsible company should do."

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