A judge in Oklahoma has ruled that Johnson & Johnson had intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids, and ordered it to pay the state $572m in the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers.
The New York Times reports that the amount fell far short of the $17bn judgment that Oklahoma had sought to pay for addiction treatment, drug courts and other services it said it would need over the next 20 years to repair the damage done by the opioid epidemic.
Still, the report said, the decision, by Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland Country District Court, heartened lawyers representing states and cities – plaintiffs in many of the more than 2,000 opioid lawsuits pending across the country – who are pursuing a legal strategy similar to Oklahoma’s. His finding that Johnson & Johnson had breached the state’s “public nuisance” law was a significant aspect of his order.
In his ruling, he wrote that Johnson & Johnson had promulgated “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” and babies born exposed to opioids.
Sabrina Strong, a lawyer for Johnson & Johnson, one the world’s biggest health care companies, said, “We have many strong grounds for appeal and we intend to pursue those vigorously.”
The case was the first to go to trial out of thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid makers and distributors, reports BBC News. Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths in the US from 1999 to 2017, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, some 6,000 people in Oklahoma have died from opioid overdoses, according to the state’s lawyers.
The report says earlier this year, Oklahoma settled with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma for $270m and Teva Pharmaceutical for $85m, leaving Johnson & Johnson as the lone defendant.
J & J and its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies have announced they will appeal the $572m civil judgment. According to a Yahoo Finance report, the company said it was confident it has strong grounds to appeal this decision.
The company said that the judgment disregards the company’s compliance with federal and state laws, the unique role its medicines play in the lives of the people who need them, its responsible marketing practices and that since launch, Duragesic, Nucynta and Nucynta ER, have accounted for less than 1% of total opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma as well as the US.
“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” said Michael Ullmann, executive vice president, general counsel, J&J said. “We recognise the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need.”