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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Johnson & Johnson Ordered To Pay Oklahoma $572 Million In Opioid Trial

 August 27, 2019 at 10:49 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:01 An Oklahoma judge ruled Johnson and Johnson will have to pay $572 million to the state for their deceptive marketing of opioids. This is the first ruling to hold a pharmaceutical company responsible for one of the worst drug epidemics in American history while Johnson and Johnson rejects the decision and will file an appeal. That case is being closely watched by plaintiffs and other opioid lawsuits, including the city of San Diego, which filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family along with other manufacturers and distributors. I spoke with mark and Korn chief deputy city attorney about how Oklahoma's ruling good impact San Diego's case. I started by asking for his reaction to the decision. Speaker 2: 00:45 It's an interesting step in the right direction. Um, now it doesn't have a whole lot to do with our case in Cleveland because it was brought by the Oklahoma Ag and filed under Oklahoma Law, but one of the claims that they asserted there, which was the public nuisance claim under Oklahoma law, is very similar to one of the claims that we have in our lawsuit. So in a lot of ways it represents a good sort of test flight if you will. Um, a lot of jurisdictions around the country are watching very closely what these early lawsuits are doing and how those decisions are being taken care of. Speaker 1: 01:24 And Johnson and Johnson has admitted no wrongdoing and says it's going to appeal the ruling. But if it stands, what do you think that means for the city of San Diego's lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other similar lawsuits that are pending against opioid manufacturers, Speaker 2: 01:39 it will set in a lot of ways set the market, uh, as to what the amount of, uh, abatement costs are going to be required and what the level of culpability are for various defendants. Speaker 1: 01:52 And the amount was much lower than the 17 billion that they were actually seeking. What are your thoughts on that? Is 572 million enough? Speaker 2: 02:01 Well, I can't speak for Oklahoma, so I'm not sure whether it's a enough for Oklahoma or not. I'm certainly the Oklahoma AG wanted a substantially higher figure from what I understand, approximately 17 billion. Um, but the judge ultimately balanced the evidence and came up with a different, a different number. Um, with respect to those public nuisance claims. What the ultimate remedy is, is injunctive relief. And so the, the finder of fact, which is the judge has to figure out how much it's going to cost to solve the problem. And it's a very difficult calculus. Uh, there's a lot of different factors that come into play, um, when deciding on, um, what's appropriate for relief, how to best solve the problem. Um, and that is, uh, an enormous topic of, of debate and concern, uh, between the jurisdictions, between the various interested entities. Um, the city attorney here, um, Mara Elliot is very committed to making sure that we have, uh, appropriate funding and sufficient resources to address the problem and think it's only appropriate that the people who caused the problem are the ones that have to pay for it. Speaker 1: 03:06 Hmm. Is the city of San Diego pursuing a similar legal strategy to Oklahoma's Speaker 2: 03:11 so similar in the sense that we also have a public nuisance claim? Yes, but we have a, I think a broader, a broader strategy. First of all, we have sued the individual members of the Sackler family who were directly responsible for creating the Purdue Pharma, um, mess, uh, how Purdue Pharma like just was, was predatory and, and went after some of the most vulnerable people in our communities for the last several decades. They almost single handedly created the marketing fraud and perpetuated and ongoing marketing fraud and the members of the Sackler family, or directly responsible for that because they occupied high board positions and leadership positions in that company. So that's the first difference. The second difference is we sued an additional number, not just Purdue Pharma, and not just Janssen, which is the subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson. That was the target of yesterday's verdict. And we've also sued a number of other manufacturers. Speaker 2: 04:13 And in addition to that, we've also sued, uh, distributors. So 85% of the opioid market is controlled by three major drug distributors. And they knew, uh, directly how the pills flowed from manufacturer to the doctors, to the pharmacies and kept track because we were required to under federal law in a big database called Arcos. Um, some of that was, uh, made, made public after it was under seal for the last several years and some of that data was made public last month by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal. Um, and so that is also part of our claim as well as the fact that we raise an additional state law claim and an additional federal law claim that was not seen by the Oklahoma AG. Speaker 1: 04:55 Purdue Pharma was originally part of Oklahoma's lawsuit, but the company ended up settling without even a admitting any wrongdoing. Did that surprise you? Speaker 2: 05:04 It, it didn't in the sense that we had been hearing for quite some time that Purdue really wanted to get out of this mess and kind of put a cap on it and figure out what they were going to do. Um, you know, it's been rumored for a while that Purdue for several months now that Purdue was headed for bankruptcy. Um, that hasn't happened yet, but they may be trying to get some, some of this prepackage before they go to the bankruptcy court to clean it all up. Um, that's, you know, I, I don't know. Uh, but it, it's an interesting comparison in the sense that if you think about that the population of Oklahoma's three and a half million more or less, and the population of San Diego County is about the same size. We're about three and a half, 3.6 million people. So it's, uh, in a way, the state of Oklahoma is a very rough proxy for the county of San Diego. Speaker 1: 05:52 Is the city anywhere close to engaging and potential settlement talks with? I can't comment on, on if there are or are not Speaker 2: 06:01 any settlement negotiations going on right now with any entity that we've sued. Um, there are a number of things happening in the lawsuit. We're officially in sort of formally stayed. Um, while we're waiting for the track. One, uh, county is two counties in Ohio or they're on track one, they're going to court in the next month or so. And uh, everyone else in the pool is waiting to see how those cases come out as well. That's more directly relevant. Speaker 1: 06:26 What can you tell us about the impact of the opioid crisis in San Diego? Speaker 2: 06:31 It's been profound. Uh, one of my colleagues, uh, was, uh, on a ride along over the weekend, in fact with the San Diego Police Department. And we were chatting this morning and she told me that the, just in the few hours that she was, uh, with those police officers, they responded to two different calls that were opioid related overdoses. And these were not in inner city neighborhoods. One was in a very affluent, gated community. Um, so this, this is something that, that strikes from high to low, no matter what the economic circumstances are, no matter what the racial background is, no matter what kind of education people have or resources, it's, it's a crisis that is sweeping across our communities. Speaker 1: 07:17 I've been speaking with mark and Korn chief deputy city attorney mark. Thank you so much. My pleasure, Tony. Thank you very much.

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In a landmark ruling, Judge Thad Balkman ruled in favor of Oklahoma in its lawsuit to hold the drugmaker accountable for the costs of opioid addiction in the state.
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