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Overdose victim’s father to testify in Oklahoma opioid trial of J&J

(Reuters) – The father of a university football player who died of a drug overdose is expected to testify on Wednesday on the second day of trial in a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma accusing the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson of fuelling the U.S. opioid epidemic.

The trial in a state court in Norman, Oklahoma, in the first to result from more than 2,000 similar lawsuits against opioid manufacturers nationally.

The lawsuits by state and local governments seek to hold J&J and other companies responsible for a drug abuse epidemic that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says led to a record 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter alleges that J&J, along with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, carried out deceptive marking campaigns that downplayed the addictive risks of opioid pain treatments while overstating their benefits.

Lawyers for the state claim that J&J, which sold the painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta, marketed the opioids as safe and effective for everyday pain while downplaying their addictive qualities.

The state claims J&J’s actions created an oversupply of painkillers and a public nuisance that will cost $12.7 billion to $17.5 billion to remedy over the next 20 to 30 years.

To support its claims, lawyers for the state are expected on Wednesday to call Craig Box, whose son Austin, a University of Oklahoma linebacker, died of an opioid overdose in May 2011 at the age of 22.

Oklahoma resolved its claims against Purdue in March for $270 million and against Teva on Sunday for $85 million, leaving J&J as the only defendant in the nonjury trial before Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman.

J&J denies wrongdoing, arguing that its marketing efforts were proper and that the state cannot prove it caused the opioid epidemic given the role doctors, patients, pharmacists and drug dealers played.

The case is being closely watched by plaintiffs in other opioid lawsuits, particularly the 1,850 cases consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio, who has been pushing for a settlement agreement ahead of an October trial.

Some plaintiffs’ lawyers have compared the opioid cases to litigation by states against the tobacco industry that led to a $246 billion settlement in 1998.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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