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Landmark Opioid Trial Hinges on a Legal Term

What is a 'public nuisance'?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2019 1:08 PM CDT
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter speaks during an interview in his office in Oklahoma City.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
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(Newser) – A landmark trial got underway Tuesday in Oklahoma—the first big test of whether a state can hold drug manufacturers responsible for the opioid crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal. In opening arguments, Attorney General Mike Hunter said these painkillers have led to the "worst manmade public health crisis" in US history, per the AP. Details and developments, including how the legal definition of a "public nuisance" will be crucial:

  • The players: Oklahoma is going after Johnson & Johnson and subsidiaries in this trial. Previously, Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma (owned by the Sackler family) agreed to a $270 million settlement with the state to avoid trial; and just this weekend, Teva Pharmaceutical agreed to a settlement of $85 million. That leaves only Johnson & Johnson left in the trial, which will be decided by a judge and not a jury.
  • It's personal: Pew reports that two of the attorneys for Oklahoma know well the dangers of opioids. Michael Burrage lost his niece to an overdose and Reggie Whitten's son was addicted when he died in a motorcycle accident. Whitten's nephew also committed suicide over his addiction.

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