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Opioid epidemic response discuss Johnson & Johnson suit

Duncan Banner - 8/9/2019

Aug. 8--Duncan has been host to the OSU Center for Wellness and Recovery's seven-day long event covering the opioid epidemic response from the public, health officials, doctors, and those who work with those affected by opioid use.

An open event that had a town hall panel which took a small and welcome detour by moderator Dr. Jason Beaman about the recent lawsuit the state of Oklahoma has with opioid manufacturer Johnson and Johnson.

While talking about the lack of funding, Beaman said when the opioid epidemic hit the two departments who were hit the hardest -- Oklahoma State Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) and the Health Department, they received no budget increases.

"So say Ebola hit Duncan tomorrow, you would see all sorts of dollars rushing in to fight that, but the opioid epidemic hit here and there was no extra dollars," Beaman said.

The Assistant Clinical Professor, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences for OSU was part of the team who made the plan for the lawsuit, along with panel member Jackie Shipp, senior director of ODMHSAS.

"There may be hope on the horizon with the lawsuit against Johnson and Johnson which has a 17.7 billion dollar plan, me and Ms. Shipp helped put it together," he said. "We will put services in Duncan, everybody is going to get what they need from that plan."

Beaman said a few other lawsuits have ended well for the state, the first he said, the money went to OSU and they are expanding services around Stillwater.

"There was a settlement with Teva Pharmaceuticals for 85 million dollars which will go straight into the state fund, ear marked for addiction treatment," he said. "ODMHSA and the health department should be able to access those funds very soon."

The largest suit for the state is the Johnson and Johnson and Beaman expected to hear the results soon.

"(We) should know within the next 14 to 30 days of the verdict," he said. "The verdict isn't 'you have to pay this much money because you did wrong.' One of the reasons Oklahoma's all over the news about this lawsuit is we took the issue a way no one's done before. We called it 'nuisance.'"

The wording was deliberate because of how nuisance suits end.

"When you have a nuisance then if the judge says you are guilty of that, then it is your responsibility to clean it up and so we developed a plan -- 17.7 billion dollars, over 30 years to clean up the opioid epidemic," he said. "That's what it is going to take, it's going to take addiction treatment facilities throughout the state, addiction doctors throughout the state, addiction medicine ..."

Something else that needs to happen is the judge needs to go through the plan.

"We don't know if the judge is going to hold them liable and if he does, he is going to have to line item everything in our 34 page plan and say 'yes, I think they need to pay that,' (circle motion) 'yes, I think they need to pay that' (circle motion)...'" Beaman said. "Whether or not he agrees with me and other people from the department of mental health on that, if that was needed."

While it is most likely Johnson and Johnson will try to appeal it, it will go to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

"I anticipate they will maintain the verdict and after that it will go to the United States Supreme Court and they have refused to hear a similar case out of California two years ago," Beaman said "So we are hopeful that the supreme court will not hear it and that will be said and done."

Mendy Spohn, regional director for Oklahoma Department of Health, brought up a good point before the potential money comes there is something everyone needs to do.

"Sometimes I feel like we need to stop a second and really inventory where, what we have, because as we move forward and plan ... I feel like that helps," she said.

Editor's note: this is part three of a three part story the opioid epidemic response event


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