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Trial in Oklahoma's lawsuit against opioid makers underway

Last Updated May 28, 2019 at 8:57 am PDT

FILE - In this Monday, March 6, 2006, file photo, Oklahoma state Rep. Thad Balkman, R-Norman, introduces a bill on the Oklahoma House floor in Oklahoma City. Balkman, now a Cleveland County District Judge, is the presiding judge in the trial, scheduled to begin Tuesday, May 28, 2019, as Oklahoma sues opioid drugmakers. (AP Photo/File)

NORMAN, Okla. — British Columbia and Ontario will be keeping close tabs on a trial that began Tuesday morning in Oklahoma.

The U.S.’ first state trial against drugmakers blamed for contributing to the opioid crisis is underway in that state.

Opening arguments started with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter saying powerful painkillers led to the “worst manmade public health crisis” in U.S. history.

Drugmakers deny those claims.

Lawyers for consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson and several subsidiaries are expected to start making their case later Tuesday. Two other pharmaceutical companies have settled with Oklahoma.

The trial could bring to light documents and testimony that show what the companies knew, when they knew it and how they responded.

The outcome could also shape negotiations on how to resolve the roughly 1,500 opioid lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments. Those have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

Proposed class action lawsuit in Canada

On Monday, the Ontario government announced plans to join B.C.’s proposed class action lawsuit against dozens of opioid manufacturers.

Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said the province will introduce legislation that, if passed, would enable its participation in the suit launched by B.C. last year.

British Columbia filed the proposed class action against dozens of pharmaceutical companies in a bid to recoup the health-care costs associated with opioid addiction.

Mulroney said Ontario would invest any potential awards won from the litigation into frontline mental health and addiction services.

The untested suit alleges the companies falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs and helped trigger an overdose crisis that has killed thousands since OxyContin was introduced to the Canadian market in 1996.

B.C. is the first province to take the pharmaceutical companies to court over the issue, and Eby encouraged others to join his suit.

The lawsuit names the maker of OxyContin — Purdue Pharma Inc. — as well as other major drug manufacturers.

“We allege that Purdue is not alone in their illegal actions to drive profits, but in fact was accompanied by 40 different manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications in Canada,” Eby said in August of 2018.

B.C. claims the public healthcare cost associated with the opioid crisis was increased dramatically by the actions of brand and non-brand name manufacturers.