Live video: Day 22 of Oklahoma opioid trial

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Judge keeps opioid trial on track

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NORMAN — Oklahoma’s fraud trial against opioid manufacturers remains on track to begin May 28 after a judge on Friday rejected a request by drug companies for a 100-day delay.

“The wheels of justice will continue to turn unimpeded toward a May 28 trial date,” Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman ruled.

Attorneys for the 13 pharmaceutical companies informed the judge they may appeal his decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Oklahoma is one of hundreds of states, cities, counties and other entities that have filed lawsuits against drug companies, seeking to recover billions of dollars in damages that they claim the companies caused by fraudulently marketing opioid painkillers. They claim the companies understated the addictive risks of their drugs while overstating their treatment benefits.

About 1,600 of the cases have been consolidated in a multidistrict federal case in Ohio. The Oklahoma case has been drawing national attention because it is the first scheduled to go to trial.

Drug company attorneys argued for a delay Friday, contending that in the interest of fairness they need more time to prepare for trial.

"The reality is all of us have been sprinting for the last several months toward a deadline we're not going to be able to meet," said, Eric Pinker, an attorney representing Purdue Pharma Inc.

Among other things, drug company attorneys argued they needed more time to review 1.6 million pages of evidence that they didn’t receive from the state until Feb. 21.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter argued against delaying the trial, saying justice requires that it move forward.

Hunter said 3,076 non-fatal overdoses were reported by Oklahoma hospitals in 2018, including 2,503 from prescription drugs.

“Time is not on our side,” Hunter said.

Hunter issued a statement applauding the judge's decision to keep the trial on schedule, saying, "We remain steadfast in our mission to end this nightmarish epidemic and the ravages the opioid epidemic has left in its wake in Oklahoma.”

A spokesman for Purdue Pharma issued a statement expressing disappointment.

"The facts show clearly that the state of Oklahoma has repeatedly failed to meet its obligations to produce critical information and documents to Purdue and the other defendants in this case," said Bob Josephson, company spokesman.

That has "unfairly prejudiced Purdue’s ability to adequately prepare our defenses," he said.

Reggie Whitten, one of the private attorneys working for the state, called the delay request a "ruse" and reiterated the state's concerns that Purdue is preparing to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Josephson responded: "We categorically deny that today’s decision will have a determinative effect on the company’s action on whether or not to file for bankruptcy," he said.

"As previously stated, the company is looking at all of its options, but we have made no decisions, and have not set any timetables. The company is committed to working with the states to help address this public health challenge."

Josephson said Purdue "has been and is preparing for the trial where we will prove that we are not responsible for the opioid addiction crisis."

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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