(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson is set to face trial on Tuesday in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma accusing the drugmaker of helping fuel the opioid epidemic.
The case, filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, is the first of more than 2,000 lawsuits to go to trial over claims that opioid manufacturers deceptively marketed painkillers to downplay the risk of addiction.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in a record 47,600 U.S. overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The company denies wrongdoing and says it marketed its products appropriately. The nonjury trial will be heard by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman in Norman, Oklahoma.
The following is a summary of where and how the opioid litigation is playing out across the United States:
* The lawsuits allege drug manufacturers like Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, Teva and Endo International Plc carried out marketing campaigns that deceptively promoted the benefits of using opioids to treat chronic, rather than short-term. Many of them also name as defendants wholesale drug distributors like AmerisourceBergen, McKesson Corp and Cardinal Health who are accused of ignoring red flags indicating the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses. The suits generally seek to recover money that states and municipalities say they have spent and will incur to address drug abuses and overdoses.
* Of the more than 2,000 lawsuits nationally, the majority of cases – 1,850 brought primarily by municipalities and counties – are consolidated before a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio.
* U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who oversees the federal litigation, has pushed for a global settlement, saying at a hearing in January 2018 that he wanted to “do something meaningful to abate this crisis.” But such a settlement has not been reached, prompting the judge to begin scheduling trials. The first federal trial begins in October.
* Many other lawsuits are pending in state courts, particularly ones brought by state attorneys general like Hunter. The vast majority of these suits are against Purdue, which launched OxyContin in 1996. Many also name members of the wealthy Sackler family, which owns Purdue.
* Hunter’s lawsuit against J&J alleges its marketing of opioids created a public nuisance that helped cause the epidemic and that the company should be required to pay for correcting, or “abating,” that problem. The state has said in court filings the potential cost could reach $17.5 billion.
* The drugmakers deny wrongdoing, arguing their products carried U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks of opioids. They say they did not cause the damage the epidemic has had on states and localities.
* Purdue, which has been considering filing for bankruptcy amid the litigation, agreed in March along with the Sacklers to a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma. The Sacklers were not named as defendants in that case and voluntarily agreed to contribute to the settlement.
* Teva on the eve of trial agreed on Sunday to pay $85 million to resolve Oklahoma’s claims against the company.
(The story corrects headline to reflect only one company is on trial.)
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Paul Simao