An Oklahoma judge has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma after determining that the company and its subsidiaries contributed to fuelling its opioid drug crisis. The ruling was made by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman and determined that Johnson & Johnson deceptively marketed addictive painkillers. According to lawyers for Oklahoma state, the company’s marketing campaign minimized the addiction risks of the painkillers, while promoting their benefits.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma… It must be abated immediately,” said Balkman prior to announcing the verdict. The case was a seven-week, non-jury trial, where Judge Balkman concluded that the company’s “misleading marketing and promotion of its Duragesic and Nucynta painkillers created a public nuisance.”
The amount payable by the company was lower than expected by investors, increasing the price of its shares by five percent. “The expectation was this was going to be a $1.5 billion to $2 billion fine… $572 million is a much lower number than had been feared,” said Jared Holz, health-care strategist for Jefferies & Co.
Nevertheless, Johnson & Johnson has stated they will appeal the ruling. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were implicated in nearly 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017.
This was the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could serve as precedent for over 2,500 similar lawsuits filed by states, counties and municipalities aimed to hold drug companies responsible for nationwide opioid abuse. So far, several companies have settled similar cases.
Oklahoma had previously resolved claims against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP in March 2019 for $270 million and Teva in May 2019 for $85 million. In a case by two Ohio counties, two other drug makers, Endo International Plc and Allergan Plc, agreed to pay $15 million to avoid going to trial in October.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter who brought the case against the company said, “Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their actions.”