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Opioid manufacturers accused of defying two court orders

NORMAN — The State of Oklahoma has accused attorneys for Purdue opioid manufacturing companies of blatantly defying multiple court orders and is asking a judge to impose sanctions.

Purdue attorneys deny violating any court orders and contend attorneys for the state are the ones who have been unreasonable and uncooperative.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman has scheduled a hearing on the dispute for 11 a.m. Friday.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a lawsuit against more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies last summer, accusing them of contributing to Oklahoma's epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths by orchestrating a fraudulent marketing campaign that greatly understated the addictive risks of the powerful painkillers while overstating treatment benefits.

The legal flare-up is over attempts by the state to force attorneys for Purdue to make a witness available for an Aug. 30 deposition. The state's attorneys want to quiz a representative of the drug companies about an advertisement Purdue ran last December in The New York Times and actions the company has taken to address the opioid crisis.

The state's lawyers contend that Judge Balkman ordered Purdue to allow the depositions to take place "on or before Aug. 30, 2018," but Purdue has refused to comply.

"Purdue is delaying this deposition to attempt to avoid this trial," Michael Burrage, the lead attorney for the state, said in an emergency motion seeking sanctions. "Purdue is trying to buy time so it can move assets and employees overseas, recreate the opioid plague overseas with its company Mundipharma, and either file bankruptcy or leave an empty shell here in the United States for all the victims of its corporate greed."

"Purdue's pattern is pretty clear. It is a bad company," Burrage said in his court filing.

The state is asking Balkman to order Purdue to provide a witness for the Aug. 30 depositions and to sanction Purdue for its defiance by striking its legal defenses.

State attorneys contend quick action is essential: "Ten Oklahomans die from the opioid addiction epidemic each week," they said. "Thus, during the four months Purdue has delayed a single deposition from going forward, as many as 160 Oklahomans may have died from opioid overdose."

Purdue attorneys deny violating court orders and contend neither remedy requested by the state is justified.

While Purdue's attorneys acknowledge they were ordered to go forward with the depositions, they deny the depositions were required "to occur by Aug. 30, as the state erroneously contends."

They contend the state's attorneys "unilaterally" set the Aug. 30 deposition date and said that date conflicts with weeklong vacation plans of their witness.

Purdue attorneys offered alternative deposition dates of Sept. 13, 19, 25 or 26.

They also suggested that the state coordinate the deposition with similar depositions being taken by attorneys representing other entities that are suing Purdue as part of multi-jurisdiction federal court proceedings pending in Ohio.

Oklahoma's attorneys have adamantly opposed participating in the federal joint procedure, describing it as an attempt to cram a "cheap and insufficient settlement down the state's throat."

Purdue attorneys insisted they were not trying to force the state to participate in the federal litigation procedure, but instead proposing a way to reduce duplication and improve judicial efficiency.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›