A US judge on Monday found Johnson & Johnson responsible for fuelling Oklahoma’s opioid crisis, ordering the company to pay $572 million to remedy the devastation wrought by the epidemic on the state and its residents, writes Lenny Bernstein for The Washington Post.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s landmark decision is the first to hold a drugmaker culpable for the fallout of years of liberal opioid dispensing that began in the late 1990s, sparking a nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths and addiction. More than 400,000 people have died of overdoses from painkillers, heroin and illegal fentanyl since 1999.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma and must be abated immediately,” Balkman said, reading part of his decision aloud from the bench on 26 August.
“As a matter of law, I find that defendants’ actions caused harm, and those harms are the kinds recognised by [state law] because those actions annoyed, injured or endangered the comfort, repose, health or safety of Oklahomans,” he wrote in the decision.
With more than 40 states lined up to pursue similar claims against the pharmaceutical industry, the ruling in the first state case to go to trial could influence both sides’ strategies in the months and years to come.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys around the country cheered the decision, saying they hoped it would be a model for an enormous federal lawsuit brought by nearly 2,000 cities, counties, Native American tribes and others scheduled to begin in Cleveland, Ohio, in October.
Moments after the judge ruled Johnson & Johnson, which has denied wrongdoing, said it would appeal. Company attorney Sabrina Strong said at a news conference, “We are disappointed and disagree with the judge’s decision. We believe it is flawed.
“We have sympathy for those who suffer from opioid use disorder,” Strong added. “But Johnson & Johnson did not cause the opioid abuse crisis here in Oklahoma or anywhere in this country.”
Full report on The Washington Post site: