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Monday, October 14, 2019

Witness list offers a preview of arguments to come in Oklahoma's big opioid trial


By Kayla Elder | Jun 17, 2019

Brad Beckworth, left, is an attorney at Nix Patterson and is representing Oklahoma in its opioid lawsuit. Right is Larry Ottaway, whose firm represents Johnson & Johnson

NORMAN, Okla. (Legal Newsline) – Not all named witnesses will be called to testify in the two-month-long trial that is beginning its fourth week in Cleveland County Court - a trial that pits the State of Oklahoma against Johnson & Johnson over the abatement of what Oklahoma calls a man-made opioid crisis - but 10 of the more than 160 listed overlap the sides.

Within government agency positions, the state and J&J listed Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services employees Terri White, commissioner, and Jessica Hawkins, director of Prevention Services.

“I believe that the defendants caused the opioid crisis and, therefore, I believe the defendants should pay the cost to abate the opioid crisis,” White said in her video deposition.

The first-year costs for the abatement plan for 2019, per a report created by potential witness Christopher Ruhm and mentioned in both White's and Hawkins’ video depositions, totals $870,586,556.

“The plan is currently drafted as a 20-, 25- or 30-year plan,” Hawkins said in her video deposition. “In my opinion, in order to abate this crisis, the state of Oklahoma requires at least the same number of years that it has taken to get where we are in terms of the epidemic…30 years may not even be enough.”

Ruhm’s report, a draft of the abatement plan, has a series of exhibits identifying programs and services to be provided, of which Hawkins either provided or collected information on.

“If you speak to things like norm changes, we’re in a new culture in Oklahoma that’s going to be very difficult to resolve or to undo,” Hawkins said. “To retrain entire workforces, the entire medical community, to re-engage children to make sure they understand that there are different, better, safer, more effective and less harmful ways of treating pain than using opioid medications in many cases.”

Jason Beaman, a department chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, is expected to testify that he reviewed a total of 1,612 individual records composing of 39,498 unique opioid prescriptions and concluded that 8,059 opioid prescriptions were medically unnecessary.

J&J said it considers Beaman to be one of the state’s “key experts,” according to a case file from January. Oklahoma State received about $200 million in state Attorney General Mike Hunter's opioid settlement with Purdue Pharma, and private lawyers hired by the State took another $60 million.

“Starting as far back as 2008, there was a prescription opioid problem in the state of Oklahoma. And by ‘problem,’ I would specifically refer to that as over-prescribing,” Beaman said in his video deposition. 

“An individual’s ability to get addicted is determined by their genetic vulnerability, among other things, including frequency and amount of exposure to the addictive substance, including an opioid. Oklahoma is one of the worst-hit places of the opioid epidemic because we have a high rate of adverse childhood experiences that left us vulnerable to an improper marketing campaign that caused the damage that the state is alleging.”

Beaman intends to testify about the cascade effect that results from prescription opioid use to cause damage, dysfunction and death in individuals because of opioid addiction, the cause and cost of the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and his review of prescriptions.

“We do know that hundreds of people are dying in Oklahoma each year from opioid overdoses,” Beaman said in his deposition. “In reviewing medical literature, I have definitely seen more than one article that has stated that the pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson, represented that opioids were not addicting.”

Scott Fishman, as chair of Pain Medicine at the University of California and a speaker on pain treatment and management, however, believes the defendants presented both the risks and benefits of their opioid medications through education.

“It was my intention to help these providers, these clinicians, think through the prescribing decisions they needed to make…on both the side of not being afraid to use them when the benefits outweigh the risk, but also to be cautious about the risks and not use them when the treatment’s worse than the disease,” Fishman said in his video deposition. “It was education around how to responsibly use these medications.”

Former therapeutic area head of Janssen, Bruce Moskovitz, is also among the names listed on both the State and J&J’s witness lists.

“There’s overuse of opioids in general leading to adverse consequences,” Moskovitz said in his video deposition. “I know that there are ongoing activities, so by the fact that we have ongoing activities, my sense is that, no, we don’t believe that we have no responsibility to continue our educational program.”

The State and J&J both listed William Grubb, vice president of Global Business Development and Innovation of Noramco, and John Duncan, assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Cultural Studies at the University of Oklahoma, as witnesses.

Grubb has been an employee of Noramco, a company owned by J&J until 2016, for 21 years.

Duncan is expected to testify on the influence of the defendants’ alleged deceptive marketing campaign on Oklahoma law enforcement efforts at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, as well as the cause and early development of the opioid crisis in Oklahoma.

The bench trial is expected to last into late July, presided over by District Judge Thad Balkman.

Those who have already taken the stand since May 28 are:

-Dr. David Courtwright - presidential professor in the department of history at the University of North Florida; historian and published author on the history of addiction and opioids; author of “Dark Paradise, A History of Opioid Addiction in America.”

-Aaron Gilson - health policy research scientist; senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

-Dr. Andrew Kolodny - executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing; graduate professor of Addressing the Opioid Crisis course at Columbia University.

-Julio Rojas - psychologist at the University of Oklahoma Medicine.

-Claire Nguyen - epidemiologist of Oklahoma State Department of Health; administrative program manager for the injury prevention service at OSDH.

-Kimberly Deem-Eshleman - regional business director of Janssen; corporate representative for J&J

-Dr. Danesh Mazloomdoost - anesthesiologist and pain specialist; owner of a private practice in Kentucky; member of PROP.

-Russell Portenoy - executive director of MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care.

-Craig Box - father who lost his 22-year-old son, Austin, who overdosed on prescription painkillers and died in 2011. Created AustinBox12 Foundation.

-John McGregor - Norman, Oklahoma, native who was addicted to opioids for about six years; went through drug court.

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Organizations in this Story

Johnson & Johnson Oklahoma Attorney General's Office

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