BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A big opioid verdict in Oklahoma bodes well for nearly two dozen similar lawsuits in Indiana.
The state of Indiana is suing drug-maker Purdue Pharma, accusing the company of ignoring or downplaying the addictiveness of opioid painkillers while aggressively marketing the drugs in Indiana. At least seven counties and 13 cities, including Indianapolis, are pursuing their own lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and other drug companies. On Monday, an Oklahoma judge ordered one of those companies, Johnson and Johnson, to pay the state 572-million dollars for the costs of treating Oklahomans now hooked on opioids.
Johnson and Johnson is not a defendant in Indiana’s lawsuit. But I-U Maurer School of Law Professor Jody Madeira says Indiana can make the same arguments against Purdue Pharma. She says there may be some differences in the cases against different drug-makers, such as the specifics of sales representatives’ training, but says all the cases can draw on similar evidence to make the same broad arguments about false advertising and grossly understated addiction risks.
Madeira says the Indiana cases may be on stronger legal ground. Oklahoma sued under the state’s broad “public nuisance” law, allowing the state to hold Johnson and Johnson responsible for a wide range of medical harm if it could show a connection to real property in the state. Madeira says Indiana’s nuisance law is similarly broad but doesn’t require the connection to a physical space. She notes Purdue Pharma and another company, Teva, settled Oklahoma’s lawsuits out of court for a combined 355-million dollars, and says the Johnson and Johnson ruling sends those companies and others a powerful signal to try to settle cases elsewhere.
Purdue Pharma, headquartered in Connecticut, has no connection to Purdue University.
Oklahoma had requested 20 times what the judge awarded. Madeira says the state had difficulty proving the long-term costs of treatment — the unprecedented scope of the opioid epidemic makes it hard to say how successful treatment efforts will be. She says attorneys in other states will need to acknowledge that uncertainty, and may try to argue it’ll take time to get the word out about expanded treatment programs to those who need them.