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What does Oklahoma’s landmark ruling against drugmaker mean for Washington state?

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EVERETT, Wash. -- With Monday’s landmark ruling against Johnson & Johnson by a judge in Oklahoma, people on the frontlines in Washington state are weighing in.

A judge ordered the company to pay $572 million. The decision found the company liable, saying the drugmaker helped cause the opioid epidemic.

Oklahoma's Attorney General alleged that Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance by spreading misinformation to doctors and the public. They claim the company used deceptive and aggressive marketing of the painkillers, which ultimately caused overdoses. Johnson & Johnson says it will appeal the ruling.

Those allegations against Johnson & Johnson sound very similar to a case in Washington state.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a suit against Purdue Pharma. Several other local jurisdictions, including the cities of Everett and Tacoma, also filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma.

On Tuesday, people fighting addiction and those helping them told Q13 News that the ruling out of Oklahoma is encouraging.

Q13 News sat down with Sherie Hurst White, who comes into Ideal Option every 3 weeks now to hold herself accountable.

“Getting sober is a lot harder than staying on anything,” Sherie said.

Sherie says the withdrawal from opioid addiction is excruciating.

“There were points you wanted to rip your own hair out, my skin would crawl, I would get nauseous,” Sherie said.

The mother of three broke down in tears when asked about the impact on her family.

“I thought I was a good mom, I still had a roof and food but when I got clean I realized that I didn’t always have food, my kids were hurting, things that happened to my kids I didn’t know about,” Sherie said.

She says the pain of that realization almost caused her to relapse.

“Getting clean and feeling that pain is probably worse than any pain,” Sherie said.

She was at the peak of her addiction in 2011 after a doctor prescribed her pain killers for a medical condition.

That is also the same year the state says sales of pills were skyrocketing: More than 112 million daily doses of prescription opioids dispensed, a 16-day supply for every woman, man and child in Washington state.

“We do see days where we see 120 on the books,” Geoff Godfrey of Ideal Option said.

That’s 120 people om one day alone trying to get help from Ideal Option in Everett.

The city of Everett is one of several local jurisdictions that are suing Purdue Pharma alleging the company fueled the opioid epidemic. Snohomish County is one of the hardest hit by the crisis.

In addition, the state’s case against Purdue Pharma is going to trial in February 2020.

In light of an Oklahoma judge fining Johnson and Johnson more than half a billion dollars for the opiod crisis, Godfrey says he’s hopeful for Washington’s case and the added resources it could potentially bring.

“Let us get education out there and everybody understand that we have to eradicate stigma,” Godfrey said.

“You are looked at as scum because you made the wrong choice and not everybody made the choice,” Sherie said.

Sherie did make the choice, however, to reach out to Ideal Option and she’s been sober for the past two and a half years.

“There are days that I want to give up still, I just don’t, I have a lot to live for,” Sherie said.

Ideal Option has 27 clinics across Washington and they see about 800 patients on average every day. Godfrey says all the publicity and awareness means more doctors are not overprescribing opioids now.

Meanwhile, Ferguson sent Q13 News a statement on Tuesday which reads in part:

"While Washington's case against Purdue Pharma is different than Oklahoma's case in Johnson & Johnson, we're certainly encouraged by the court's decision. The Oklahoma case demonstrates that the courts are willing to hold drug manufacturers accountable for their role in causing the opioid epidemic.”

Ferguson says if the state wins they hope to use recovered money on opioid treatment and education.

 

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