A U.S. judge rules drug manufacturers Johnson & Johnson must pay $572M for its contributions in instigating the Oklahoma opioid epidemic. This was the first lawsuit out of thousands of cases filed against opioid manufacturers and sellers to go to trial.
Throughout the seven-week non-jury trial, Oklahoma lawyers asserted Johnson & Johnson implemented a long-term marketing campaign that downplayed risks of addiction to painkillers and promoted their benefits instead. The state’s lawyers said about 6,000 Oklahoma citizens have died from opioid overdoses since 2000.
“There’s no question in my mind that these companies knew what was going on at the highest level, they just couldn’t quit making money from it and that’s why they’re responsible,” said Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter.
Judge Thad Balkman of Norman, Oklahoma’s Cleveland County District Court ruled in favor of the prosecutors, stating that they showed Johnson & Johnson caused a “public nuisance” in Oklahoma through deceptively promoting highly addictive painkillers.
"Those action compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans. The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,” Judge Balkman stated after his judgement.
The money from this trial will be used to help treat Oklahomans addicted to opioids and aid in caring for communities impacted by the Oklahoma opioid epidemic. Oklahoma has already settled with Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical for their contributions to the Oklahoma opioid epidemic. This leaves Johnson & Johnson as sole defendants in these trials. After the judgement, Johnson & Johnson said they would appeal the ruling, claiming their painkillers only contributed to a small percentage of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma.
“We do not believe that the facts or the law supports the decision today,” said Johnson & Johnson’s lawyer Sabrina Strong. “We have many strong grounds for appeal, and we intend to pursue those vigorously.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids contributed to 400,000 deaths in the US between 1999 and 2017. Unless parties can reach a settlement soon, 2,000 opioid lawsuits are scheduled to go to trial in October in Ohio.