The father of a 22-year-old college football star who died of a drug overdose will take the witness stand Wednesday in the landmark trial against Johnson & Johnson — accused of fueling the country’s deadly opioid epidemic.
Craig Box will testify as part of the State of Oklahoma’s lawsuit that seeks to hold the medical giant and other companies responsible for the rising drug-abuse problem.
In 2017, there were a record 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Box’s son Austin, a University of Oklahoma linebacker, died in 2011 from a fatal mix of five prescription painkillers and an anti-anxiety drug.
An autopsy found Austin Box had the painkillers oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone in his system, along with the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is accusing J&J, along with Purdue Pharma LP, which makes OxyContin, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, of misleading the public — by downplaying the addictive risks of their drugs while overstating their benefits.
The state claims J&J created an oversupply of painkillers and that it will cost as much as $17.5 billion over the next 20 to 30 years to combat the growing drug-abuse problem.
“How did this happen? Greed,” said Hunter in his opening statements on Tuesday, according to the Norman Transcript.
He called the epidemic the “largest manmade health crisis” in Oklahoma, noting that there were more than 4,500 opioid-related deaths in the state from 2007 to 2017.
The state settled with Purdue in March for $270 million and struck an 11th-hour deal with Teva for $85 million on Sunday.
J&J, which has denied any wrongdoing, is the only defendant in the nonjury trial in state court in Norman.
The company, which was founded in 1886, said its medications were regulated and approved at the state and federal level.
“The state will present zero documented cases of addiction or death due to doctors prescribing Janssen products,” said J&J attorney Larry Ottaway, referring to the company’s subsidiary Janssen.
The case is being closely watched by plaintiffs in other opioid suits, such as the 1,850 cases consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio. That judge has been encouraging a settlement in the case, which is set to begin trial in October.
Austin Box’s mother, Gail, said she’ll be following the J&J trial closely, like many other families who’ve lost loved ones from opioid overdoses.
“It’s not going to mend my broken heart,” she told the Washington Post. “It’s not going to stop me from mourning my son. But hopefully it will stop the mourning of other people’s sons and daughters.”
With Post wires
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