By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – Oklahoma’s top court on Monday declined to delay a landmark trial set for May in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit accusing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and two other drugmakers of helping fuel an opioid abuse and overdose epidemic in the state.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision was a win for the state’s attorney general, whose case is set to be the first to face trial of roughly 2,000 lawsuits nationally seeking to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for contributing to the epidemic.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s 2017 lawsuit accuses Purdue, Johnson & Johnson & Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd of engaging in deceptive marketing that downplayed the risks of addiction associated with opioid pain drugs while overstating their benefits.
The companies deny wrongdoing. They had sought to delay the May 28 trial to Sept. 16, citing the need to review records the state belatedly turned over that could be critical to their defence. The state is seeking over $20 billion (£15 billion) in damages.
The trial delay bid came as Purdue, owned by members of the wealthy Sackler family, was exploring filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to address potential liabilities stemming from the lawsuits, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
Purdue did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. After the trial judge declined on March 8 to delay the trial, Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue denied that his ruling would have any affect on whether it files for bankruptcy.
“We appreciate the quick action taken by the court and for not rewarding the defendants with more time for a problem of their own making,” Hunter said in a statement.
J&J and Teva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were involved in a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The epidemic has prompted lawsuits by state and local governments accusing Purdue and other drugmakers of contributing to the crisis.
More than 1,600 lawsuits have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio, who has pushed for a settlement ahead of the trial before him in October. Other cases, including Oklahoma’s, are pending in state courts.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot)