Attorneys in Oklahoma’s Opioid Trial made their last efforts to leave an impression on the judge Monday, July 15 after seven full weeks of testimony.
Johnson & Johnson spent the last couple of weeks defending themselves against the state’s claims that their irresponsible and aggressive marketing of opioids caused an epidemic in the state, and in the country.
The judge gave both sides two hours for closing arguments. The State of Oklahoma went first, choosing to reserve 20 minutes for rebuttal after Johnson & Johnson presented their final words.
State’s attorney Brad Beckworth calls Johnson & Johnson’s case “nothing but a sham.”
He spoke directly to the judge: “The answers to the questions before you are very simple. You just have to have the courage to do what is right.”
In perhaps one of the most theatrical moves of the entire trial, Beckworth used a popular game show to prove that Johnson & Johnson is “greedy.”
As the theme music for “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” played throughout the courtroom, Beckworth put up a graphic, similar to ones the show uses, but with one difference. This “show” was called, “Who Wants To Be A Pain Franchise Billionaire?”
Music continued to play as Beckworth put up the questions, “What is the rate of iatrogenic addiction?” Iatrogenic means addiction caused by medical treatment.
He played on the “phone a friend” and “poll the audience” options to show how Johnson & Johnson’s witnesses were all over the place in what they believed that rate of addiction to be.
He called Johnson & Johnson a greedy company who cared about nothing else but making money.
"They engaged in a game. That's all it was to them,” Beckworth said. “They refer to the people who died as units. They scoff and make fun of the state for not running their lies and deception. It's a game. It's all about money. That's all it ever was."
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Johnson & Johnson’s attorney Larry Ottaway argued that Johnson & Johnson always put its patients first. He said opioids help chronic pain patients function and enjoy a better quality of life.
“The products are innovative,” Ottaway said. “They work. They have advantages that no other opioids have because this company took their responsibility to those patients seriously.”
Ottaway told the judge there’s a reason Johnson & Johnson didn’t settle, when the other two companies named in the lawsuit did.
"We didn't run from this case,” Ottaway said. “I told you at the very beginning, only a company that believes it's innocent would come and defend itself from an action brought by the State, on behalf of the State, to benefit the State, to be decided by a man working for the State, sitting under the State seal. But we've taken that challenge on, because we believe we're right."
Ottaway talked about how it’s the doctor’s responsibility to understand the risks and benefits of any drug they prescribe, and to prescribe those drugs responsibly. He also said the company’s drugs are heavily regulated, and approved by the FDA with a black box warning label.
Ottaway criticized the State of Oklahoma’s abatement plan to remedy the opioid crisis. He said the plan is poorly developed, and said the State is asking for billions of dollars for services the State already provides.
“I believe you’ll make the right decision,” Ottaway said to the judge. “I believe you’ll look at both sides.”
As Ottaway took his seat, Beckworth took to the podium for a final time—this time, having only 20 minutes to leave a final impression.
"Mr. Ottaway is one heck of a lawyer, and I sure admire him and like him,” Beckworth began. “But the defense of Johnson & Johnson in this case, it defies logic. I mean where did the crisis come from?
“Did we just have a bunch of addicted, troubled opioid user disorder victims lying around in wait in the state, and somebody poured water on them in 1996 and they just sprouted and grew and grew and grew and grew?” Beckworth started to shout. “Where did they come from?"
Beckworth relied on a familiar phrase in his final speech: Johnson & Johnson is the “kingpin” of the opioid crisis.
“’Kingpin: the chief person in a group or undertaking,’” Beckworth said. “Has there every been a definition more aptly suited to Johnson & Johnson?”
The judge thanked the attorneys for being competent and diligent over the last couple months.
In a news conference after closing arguments ended, Attorney General Mike Hunter said he feels “confident” in their case, but ultimately, it’s up to the judge.
He said he took the course of action he felt was best in filing the lawsuit against the big pharmaceutical companies, and trying to correct damage that's been done.
Johnson & Johnson didn’t speak on camera following today’s proceedings, but the company released the following statement:
“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.”
The judge could take a full month to make his final decision.
Attorney General Mike Hunter news conference below.