'I Know He's Cheering Right Now': Victim's Family Reacts To Landmark Opioid Decision

Monday, August 26th 2019, 10:19 pm
By: Bonnie Campo

Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman's decision in the state’s historic opioid trial is the top story across the country. 

Balkman ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million for a one-year plan to fix the opioid addiction crisis.

The state originally fought for a 30-year plan that totaled $17.5 billion.

Read Related Story: Judge Rules In State’s Favor Against Johnson & Johnson In Historic Opioid Trial

Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma argued that Johnson & Johnson was the kingpin of the opioid addiction crisis. They said the drug giant created and supplied a powerful active ingredient to other drug makers, and they marketed their drugs to downplay the risks.

Other pharmaceutical companies have already paid the state settlement money but admitted no wrong-doing.

Purdue Pharma settled $270 million and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries for $85 million.

Read Also: OSU Explains Research Collaboration With Purdue Pharma

Johnson & Johnson continues to maintain that they are not the responsible for Oklahoma’s opioid crisis.

“When you're right, you fight, and that's precisely what you're seeing here. The company here made medicines that are essential for patients who suffer from debilitating harm. That's what they did. They did it responsibly. They did it carefully," said Sabrina Strong, Attorney for Johnson & Johnson.

While Johnson & Johnson has expressed it will appeal Judge Balkman’s decision, some consider the judgment a victory.

Craig and Gail Box lost a son to an opioid overdose. Austin Box was a well-known football player at the University of Oklahoma. His father testified during the trial.

“Anytime we can shine a light on the epidemic so that people will understand, and educate everyone as to the dangers, because we know that didn’t happen whenever these drugs were being marketed. Nothing is going to bring my son back, but this victory allows his death to stand for something, and I know he is cheering right now. He was a team player, and this is a victory for team Oklahoma,” said Gail Box, Austin’s mother.

His parents started a foundation in Austin’s honor.

Austin died in 2011 and was found at a home in Enid. He had five pain medications in his system.

Many loved ones said they did not know he was struggling in silence.

Read Also: Five Drugs Found In OU Linebacker Austin Box At Time Of Death

Austin was in chronic pain and was plagued by injuries from high school and his career at OU.

However, back then, his parents said the "opioid epidemic" hadn't been given a name, and the word "addict" was cast in a long-shadow of public criticism.

Over eight years later, Austin is seen as a champion once more. The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office praised the family for sharing their son's story, and for setting precedence on the national stage.

“…A continuing inspiration. We've got young people who have gotten injured and they've been given painkillers. You're lucky. You might be in that one out of four or one out of five universe of people that have that vulnerability to addiction,” said Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Between 2000 to 2017, the state estimates 6,100 Oklahomans died from prescription opioid overdoes. It is a statistic to some, but a loved one to others.

“For me it’s somewhat vindication. Forget the money for just a minute. It’s a finding that they were the cause of this nuisance that’s caused a part of so many deaths in the state of Oklahoma, in a number of years,” said Craig Box, Austin’s father.

This case will likely be used as precedence as other opioid trials progress across the county. Another case is set for October in Ohio.

In Oklahoma, the state argued that Johnson & Johnson was a public nuisance.

It’s unclear if other states will follow that path.

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