State’s Lawsuit Against Opioid Manufacturers Gets Trial Date

Thursday, January 11th 2018, 7:15 pm
By: News 9

The state's lawsuit against the leading manufacturers of opioids has now become the first of its kind to head to a jury trial. Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman set the trial date for May 2019, but lawyers for the opioid manufacturers argue this case is too complex to be ready that soon.

Originally filed last summer, Attorney General Mike Hunter's lawsuit outlines the effects these drugs have had on Oklahomans. He says nearly 3,000 people have died of overdoses in the past three years alone, and more than 1,300 babies have been born with opioids in their system in the same time frame.

“The more time that elapses before we can get a handle on this, the more the people of this state are hurt, so we’re happy with the judge’s decision,” said Hunter.

The defense attorneys argue that because of the scope of this case, it will take more than the 16 months allotted to gather all the documents necessary to move forward. Plus, Judge Balkman ruled that the case will need a discovery master to oversee all the evidence for both sides, which could also lengthen the process.

Hunter explained that if there is a dispute over any documents, “There will be a decision by the special master, and then there’s an appeal that goes to the judge, so that happens frequently.”

The defense declined to comment on Thursday, but in the courtroom they did encourage the state to instead join a federal lawsuit based in Ohio.

Hunter says he wants a jury of Oklahomans to decide their fate, and he wants the resulting damages to be placed in a trust to fund treatment and rehabilitation for those still battling addiction.

“They need to be held accountable,” Hunter said of the manufacturers. “The damage to this state is in the billions of dollars and it’s time that they were able to give money back to the state so we can start getting people well.”

The next phase of this case will be determining who the discovery master will be. The judge hopes to have that person identified within the next month.