'We had no idea': overdose victim's dad testifies in J&J Oklahoma opioid trial

 We had no idea: overdose victims dad testifies in J&J Oklahoma opioid trial

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) - The father of a university football player who died of a drug overdose provided emotional testimony about the U.S. opioid epidemic's personal cost on Wednesday during the second day of trial in a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma accusing Johnson & Johnson of fuelling the crisis.

The testimony in a state court in Norman, Oklahoma, came during the first trial to result from more than 2,000 lawsuits largely by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers like J&J.

Those cases seek to hold the companies responsible for a drug abuse epidemic that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says led to a record 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017.

Holding back tears, Craig Box said he never suspected his son Austin, a 22-year-old University of Oklahoma linebacker, was abusing painkillers until after he was discovered unconscious at a friend's house in 2011 and died at a hospital.

"We had no idea about the prevalence of these drugs and the dangers of these drugs," he said during testimony streamed online by Courtroom View Network.

Box was called as a witness to support Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter's claims that J&J helped cause the epidemic by marketing opioids as safe and effective for everyday pain while downplaying their addictive qualities.

Oklahoma resolved similar claims against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP in March for $270 million and against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, on Sunday for $85 million.

The state claims J&J's actions created an oversupply of painkillers and a public nuisance that will cost $17.5 billion to remedy over 30 years. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman is presiding over the nonjury trial.

J&J denies wrongdoing, arguing its marketing efforts were proper and that the state cannot prove it caused the epidemic. During the trial, its stock was trading at $128.03, down 5.87 percent, at midday Wednesday.

To further support their claims, lawyers for the state played a videotaped deposition from Dr. Russell Portenoy, a physician who spent years advocating the use of opioids for chronic pain while acting as a paid speaker and consultant for drugmakers like J&J.

He has since agreed to testify for plaintiffs pursuing opioid cases, though he said he had no such agreement with Oklahoma.

"You believe the drug companies used the positive statements you made about opioids to portray opioid treatment as safe and effective?" asked Brad Beckworth, a lawyer for Oklahoma.

"Yes," Portenoy said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date: May 30, 2019 00:06:37 IST