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Lawyer In Nevada Opioids Suits Sees Boost From Oklahoma Case

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The lawyer heading Nevada's largest lawsuits against drug manufacturers accused of fueling the nation's opioid addiction crisis predicted Wednesday that companies could be on the hook for judgments in the billions of dollars if cases go before juries.


Attorney Robert Eglet pointed to a $572 million judgment that Oklahoma won on Monday against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, parent company of subsidiaries that produced powerful prescription painkillers.

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"My prediction is the verdicts are going to get larger and larger. We're talking in the billions," Eglet said. "The public now understands (pharmaceutical company) actions were beyond negligent."


In a case heard by a judge, not a jury, Oklahoma argued that companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance with marketing that promoted sales while downplaying the risks of addiction, and that Johnson & Johnson should pay a year's worth of drug-treatment efforts.


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Oklahoma reached $355 million in pretrial settlements with two other defendant groups, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.


Nearly every U.S. state and some 2,000 local governments have lawsuits pending drugmakers and distributors.


In a statement, Purdue Pharma, the top named defendant in the Nevada cases, said it was "prepared to defend itself vigorously" but hoped to avoid years of litigation and appeals by reaching an umbrella settlement.

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"The company is actively working with the state attorneys general and other plaintiffs to achieve this outcome," said the statement from company spokeswoman Josephine Martin.


Eglet appeared Tuesday before a Nevada judge for a routine hearing in a lawsuit that Reno filed against pharmaceutical companies last September. He also represents Nevada, the state's most populous county and the state's three largest cities in similar cases.


His lawsuits on behalf of North Las Vegas, Henderson and Las Vegas were filed last week.


The legal action in Nevada and other states comes as overdoses from opioids, which include prescription painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin, have passed 400,000 since 2000.


In their lawsuits, governments contend drug manufacturers fraudulently downplayed the addiction risks of the powerful painkillers while encouraging doctors to prescribe patients more drugs at higher doses.


They also argue that drugmakers and distributors failed to stop suspiciously large shipments. The companies dispute the allegations.