An Oklahoma judge ruled against Johnson & Johnson in the state’s opioid suit on Monday, ordering the pharmaceutical giant to pay $572 million for its role in the state’s opioid crisis.
“The state met its burden that the defendants Janssen and Johnson & Johnson’s misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance as defined by [the law],” District Judge Thad Balkman said. “Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome,” he added.
Johnson & Johnson’s actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans, in which Balkman said has “ravaged” the state of Oklahoma. However, following the verdict, Johnson & Johnson announced that it plans to appeal the “flawed” judgment.
“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel for Johnson & Johnson, said in a written statement on Monday. “We recognize 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,” he said. “This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states.”
According to the ruling, Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen repeatedly downplayed the risks of addiction to opioids, such as training sales representatives to tell doctors the risk was 2.6% or less if the drugs were prescribed by a doctor. Physicians that prescribed high amounts of opioids were targeted as “key customers.”
The $572 million judgment against the company is said to cover one year of costs under the state’s plan to combat the opioid crisis, although the attorney general’s office presented several witnesses who claim that it will take at least 20 years to carry out. “The state did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary, beyond year one, to abate the opioid crisis,” the ruling says.
Oklahoma previously reached settlements with two other opioid drugmakers, including a $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and an $85 million settlement with Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s leading providers of generic drugs. Both companies did not admit to any wrongdoing.