Johnson & Johnson at center of first opioid crisis trial

By Meg Wagner and Brian Ries, CNN

Updated 5:05 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019
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5:05 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Our live coverage has ended. Scroll through the posts below to see how the opening statements unfolded, and read more about the trial here.

4:05 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Opening arguments just wrapped

From CNN’s Aaron Cooper

Opening arguments in the Oklahoma opioid trial just ended.

Larry Ottaway, an attorney representing Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, defended his client's conduct. 

“Janssen’s conduct was not a nuisance. They provided medically necessary mediations…. They were lawfully subscribed by doctors in the state of Oklahoma.  

Total documented cases of addictions or death due to one of the Janssen’s medication in this case? Zero, Ottaway says.  

Still, the state of Oklahoma wants Johnson & Johnson to pay $17.5 billion, Ottaway says.  

That would go for, among other things, universal screenings for all Medicaid patients 30 times a year for substance abuse.  

The state wants Janssen to pay for a needle exchange program – but the company never made an opioid you needed a syringe for, he said.

“They say you can’t fight city hall? Multiple that by 10,000 what we are fighting now. It’s more than simple slogans, but if we are talking about lessons. We are a state that is not poor, we are right in resources. We can solve this problem, but we don’t need to do this to do it. Why are we here? Because when you are right you fight.”  

2:56 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Drugmaker's lawyer: "Serious chronic pain is a soul-stealing, life-robbing thief"

From CNN's Aaron Cooper

Larry Ottaway, a defense lawyer representing Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, just cited a DCD report in his opening statement.

The report says: “Public health interventions to reduce prescription drug addiction must strike a balance between reducing misuse and abuse and safeguarding legitimate access to treatment.”

He asked those in the courtroom to think about what it would be like if pain "never went away."

“We have all suffered pain, some of us fortunately less than others. We have hit our finger with a hammer, we have all suffered a toothache, we have all broken bones, been burned, and we hate it. It is the memory of what it was like to be pain-free that gets us through those times. I want everyone to think of what it would be like if instead of going away that pain stayed with a person… and never went away. Serious chronic pain is a soul-stealing, life-robbing thief. It leads to depression, it leads to suicide, people can’t take care of their own basic function,” he said.

“When we talk about the balance between risk of addiction and unrelenting pain, that is the balance the government is speaking about,” Ottaway said.

There are 50 million adults with chronic pain, he said citing CDC data.

“Janssen did not invent this disease,” he said, but is trying to treat pain.

2:37 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Court is back in session and the defense is continuing its opening statements

From CNN's Aaron Cooper

The trial Oklahoma Johnson & Johnson trial has resumed.

The Norman, Oklahoma court room is at capacity, and two television cameras operated by the Courtroom View Network are sharing images of the trial with other media.

Judge Thad Balkman is allowing the defense to continue making opening statements.

Earlier today, the State of Oklahoma, in its opening statements, accused Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, of fueling the opioid epidemic and causing a "public nuisance."

3:05 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Drugmaker said opioids were rarely addictive when FDA said the same, defense says

Defense lawyer Larry Ottaway began laying out the case for Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals in his opening statement.

He cited John Adam’s famous quote -- “Facts are stubborn things" -- criticized some of the allegations made by Oklahoma, which brought the lawsuit against his clients.

He said that in 2009, when Janssen said opioids were rarely addictive, the Food and Drug Administration also said that opioids “rarely caused addiction.”

The court is now on a lunch break. The defense team will continue its opening statements when they return at 1:30 p.m.

12:21 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Oklahoma just wrapped its opening statement

From CNN’s Aaron Cooper

Attorney Michael Burrage just concluded the opening statement for the State of Oklahoma.

“Johnson & Johnson helped create this public nuisance in Oklahoma, and here is what they did your honor. Both falsely and deceptively, through multiple methods and with others, promoted opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-malignant pain," he said.

He cited the book, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten,” and said Johnson & Johnson should be responsible for cleaning up their own messes.  

What happens next: Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals will begin their opening statements after a 20-minute recess.

12:07 p.m. ET, May 28, 2019

There were 135 opioid pills for every adult in one Oklahoma county, lawyer says

From CNN's Aaron Cooper

Brad Beckworth, a private attorney hired by the State of Oklahoma, said Johnson & Johnson “aggressively” marketed its products to anyone and everyone.

He also broke down some of the numbers behind the opioid crisis in Oklahoma:

  • 135 opioid pills were available for every adult in Cleveland County, Oklahoma — where the trial is being held.
  • 139,359 years of life were lost as a result of overdose deaths of prescription opioids, Beckworth said.  
  • There were 149,183 sales visits made to doctors in the state of Oklahoma between 1999 and 2005, he told the judge.  
11:53 a.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Johnson & Johnson was in a "race" with another opioid maker, state says

From CNN's Aaron Cooper


Brad Beckworth, a private attorney hired by the State of Oklahoma compared Johnson & Johnson to Oxycontin maker Purdue — and said the two drug giants were in a competition over opioids.

Beckworth quoted a song from the musical "Annie Get Your Gun" — “Anything you can do, I can do better” — when describing Johnson & Johnson mirroring actions of Purdue and finding ways to get people to start taking their drug and keep taking it.

“Johnson & Johnson was in a race with Purdue to do the same things,” he said.

11:51 a.m. ET, May 28, 2019

Johnson & Johnson marketed opioids as safe for everyday pain and made them too widely available, state says

From CNN's Aaron Cooper


The state of Oklahoma continues their opening statement in the civil trial where they allege Johnson and Johnson and their subsidiary Jensen Pharmaceuticals fueled the opioid crisis and created a “public nuisance.”

Mike Hunter, the state attorney general, called the opioid crisis “the worst manmade public health crisis in the history of our state and country.”

“The pain, anguish and heartbreak… is almost impossible to comprehend,” he said. “How did this happen? At the end of the day, your honor, I have a short one word answer – greed.”

In their zeal to produce a magic drug, the company engaged in a “multimillion dollar brainwashing campaign,” he said, that impacted real families.

Brad Beckworth, a private attorney hired by the State of Oklahoma said Johnson & Johnson’s marketing of the drugs as safe and effective for everyday pain made them too widely available.

“We must act deliberately, we must ask decisively,” he said. “There is no better place than right here, right now.”