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Bottles of prescription painkiller Oxycodone Hydrochloride, 30mg pills, made by Mallinckrodt sit on a shelf at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017. Photo by George Frey/REUTERS

Oklahoma drops some claims in lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A week after reaching a $270 million settlement with the maker of OxyContin, Oklahoma’s attorney general Thursday dropped some claims against other drugmakers in a lawsuit alleging they helped create the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office filed a motion that dismisses claims of fraud and deceit, unjust enrichment and violations of the state’s Medicaid laws against about a dozen drugmakers. Hunter said dismissing those claims does not reduce the amount of damages the state is seeking.

Hunter’s office will continue to pursue allegations that the drugmakers created a public nuisance, which he says is the most important allegation against the drugmakers.

“We’re going to be ready for trial, and we’re going to hold these defendants responsible for the damage they’ve done to the state and its citizens,” Hunter said.

Sabrina Strong, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, which are among the companies being sued, said in a statement that dismissal of the claims shows they were groundless.

“We will continue to defend against the remaining baseless and unsubstantiated allegations,” Strong said. Trial of the state’s lawsuit is scheduled to begin on May 28 in Norman, about 17 miles south of Oklahoma City.

Other defendants in the case include Dublin, Ireland-based Allergan and New Jersey-based Teva Pharmaceuticals USA.

By dismissing all but the public nuisance claim, Hunter said the state’s motion will result in a bench trial before a judge instead of a jury. The companies have until Tuesday to respond to the state’s motion.

Hunter said trying the case before a judge and not a jury should reduce the number of pretrial motions filed by the companies and give both sides more time to prepare for trial.

“We’ve got a handful of lawyers and they’ve got hundreds, so it was an important strategic decision with regard to preparing for trial,” Hunter said.

Hunter’s office settled allegations against drugmaker Purdue Pharma for $270 million on March 26 in the first such agreement following a wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against the company that had threatened to push it into bankruptcy.

Nearly $200 million will go toward establishing a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, while local governments will get $12.5 million.

In settling, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company denied any wrongdoing in connection with what Hunter called “this nightmarish epidemic” and “the worst public health crisis in our state and nation we’ve ever seen.”

Associated Press writer Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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