Families impacted by the opioid epidemic closely watching Johnson & Johnson trial

Historic opioid trial begins in Oklahoma
Historic opioid trial begins in Oklahoma 02:16

Norman, Okla. — Opening statements were made Tuesday in a landmark trial that could determine whether states can hold drug makers responsible for the opioid crisis. Thousands of families will be watching closely, as the case could affect other pending lawsuits.

Emily Walden's son TJ served in the Kentucky National Guard. He was also addicted to opioids and tried to get clean.

"I did everything from following him to drug testing him. I put $11,000 on a credit card to put him into treatment. And he wanted to get better," Walden said.

In 2012, TJ died after overdosing on oxymorphone. He was only 21.

"Opioids take a hold of you and it's extremely hard for people to overcome that," Walden said.

In 2017, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed lawsuits against several pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of "execut(ing) massive and unprecedented marketing campaigns," "misrepresent(ing) the risks of addiction" and making "billions of dollars in profits."

"Money can make people and businesses do bad things, very bad things," Hunter said.

Drug companies Perdue and Teva both settled with the state out of court, admitting no liability. Johnson & Johnson and their subsidiary Janssen are accused in the lawsuit of creating a public nuisance.

The state alleges that between 1999 and 2005, sales representatives for Johnson & Johnson and Perdue made more than 149,000 visits to 2,400 Oklahoma doctors to push their products. During the height of the opioid epidemic, more than 500 Oklahomans died from overdoses a year.    

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson pointed out that their products in Oklahoma were "clearly labeled"  and that they were "designed to prevent abuse." Their subsidiary Janssen called the state's allegations baseless and unsubstantiated.

The state's attorney said at one point, there were enough prescriptions to provide 135 pills for every adult in Cleveland County. The trial is expected to last two months.

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    Omar Villafranca is a CBS News correspondent based in Dallas.