Day 9: State Touts Correlation Between Opioid Sales In Oklahoma, Unintentional Overdoses
NORMAN, Oklahoma - 'Overprescribe and people will die.' The state made that statement in opening arguments of its case against Johnson & Johnson last week. Friday, day 9 of the trial, an expert witnesses testified that's exactly what happened in Oklahoma.
Claire Nguyen, an injury epidemiologist at the State Department of Health testified that she's made about 150 presentations in Oklahoma and across the country in the last five years, showing what she says is a clear correlation between a sharp increase in opioid prescription sales in Oklahoma in the 2000's and an equally steep increase in unintentional overdose deaths at the same time.
With the court's permission, Nguyen poured out onto a table 156 pills, representing the number of 10mg Hydrocodone pills every adult in Oklahoma would have been prescribed in 2017, if the total amount dispensed were averaged out. This goes to the heart of the state's case that Johnson & Johnson's aggressive marketing helped create an oversupply of prescription opioids in the state, and with deadly consequences.
"As we've seen for most of the graphs that have been shown today," Nguyen testified, "as the sales of prescription opioids increased, we saw an increase in prescription opioid overdose deaths -- as there is more supply, more people die."
On cross-examination, attorneys for Johnson & Johnson tried to show that Nguyen's data is misleading because it does not account for opioid prescriptions that may have been illicitly manufactured or obtained through diversion.
Earlier in the day, Judge Thad Balkman heard powerful testimony from one of the state's impact witnesses, a 34-year-old Norman man whose life was turned upside down by opioid addiction.
John McGregor testified that he'd led a pretty normal life -- son of a rancher, hard-working, reliable -- until a couple years out of high school when he started feeling pain from a childhood surgery and a doctor prescribed him Lortab, an opioid.
"Did you know instantly that you loved this drug?" asked attorney Reggie Whitten.
"I knew I loved the effect of the drug," McGregor admitted.
In halting and emotion testimony, McGregor went on to explain how that one prescription got him addicted to opioid pain relievers and his life spiraled out of control. He says he couldn't hold a job, began stealing, even from his own family, turned to heroin, and befriended drug dealers.
He said that he went down a very dark path that put him in jail and nearly cost him his family and his life.
"It got to the point where I was homeless, I had no job, I had no income," McGregor told the judge, "and I had no family -- they had to go on with their life because I chose to live the way I was living."
McGregor says it was God, and drug court that saved him. And drug courts, the state pointed out, cost money.
The state is suing Johnson & Johnson for creating a public nuisance and wants the drug maker to pay to help abate the crisis.