On Monday, a judge in Oklahoma ruled that pharmaceutical company, Johnson & Johnson had purposely downplayed the dangers and risks of addiction and oversold the benefits of opioids. Johnson & Johnson was then ordered to pay the state $572 million for actions that state prosecutors said helped fuel the state’s opioid epidemic, which contributed to over 6,000 deaths in Oklahoma in nearly two decades.
“False, Misleading, and Dangerous”
While Johnson & Johnson denied the accusations, it said it will begin the appeal process of the ruling. The company’s attorney stated that state prosecutors had misinterpreted the public nuisance law, having previously limited it to disputes involving property or public spaces.
However, conversely, state argued Johnson & Johnson supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone and marketed its products as safe and effective.
“The defendant caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court said from the bench.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma, it must be abated immediately,” Balkman stated. “For this reason, I’m entering an abatement plan that consists of costs totaling $572,102,028 to immediately remediate the nuisance.
In the ruling, Balkman wrote that Johnson & Johnson provided, “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, and overdose deaths,” and babies born exposed to opioids.
Though, Michael Ullmann, the company’s executive vice president said in a statement that Johnson & Jonson did not create the the opioid crisis and their plans to appeal the decision are in full-force.
“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states,” Ullman said. “The unprecedented award for the State’s ‘abatement plan’ has sweeping ramifications for many industries and bears no relation to the Company’s medicines or conduct.”
The First of Many Cases
Known for infant shampoo and other family-friendly products, Johnson & Johnson has a lesser-known pharmaceutical division, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Johnson & Johnson said its opioid products account for less than a percentage of the Oklahoma market, but the state of Oklahoma disputed that.
While Johnson & Johnson is contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania, the company also supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients in drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone, the state argued. Additionally, a subsidiary of the company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals created their own opioids as well as a fentanyl patch it still produces.
Judge Balkman said the $572 million judgment could pay for a year’s worth of services needed to combat the epidemic in Oklahoma.
The decision was the first of many cases against pharmaceutical companies from multiple states to go to trial. More than 40 other states have filed similar claims, and the ruling is likely to affect the other cases. Additionally, another federal lawsuit composed of complaints from nearly 2,000 cities, counties, and other smaller entities is scheduled to go to trial in October.