Monday, an Oklahoma judge ruled against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in an opioid lawsuit brought against the company by the state. The ruling orders J&J to pay $572 million, making the case a first in which a U.S. pharmaceutical company is held accountable for fueling the opioid crisis in America.
District Judge Thad Balkman calls the opioid epidemic an “imminent danger and menace,” and concluded that “the defendants Janssen and Johnson & Johnson’s misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance as defined by [the law].”
He goes on to say, “Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome.”
The ruling states the company made numerous efforts to downplay the risks of addiction to patients by training sales reps to tell doctors that the risk was less than three percent when prescribed. Doctors who prescribed large amounts of opioids for pain management were considered “key customers” and targeted a such. J&J intends to appeal the ruling.
The $572 million judgment covers one year of estimated costs under the state’s plan to manage the crisis, although the Attorney General predicts it could take as many as 20 years cure the crisis. However, the judgment could not extend beyond the one year mark because, according to ruling, “the state did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary, beyond year one, to abate the opioid crisis.”
J&J disputes the ruling and says it is “flawed.” Their belief is that the state “failed to present evidence that the company’s products or actions caused a public nuisance in Oklahoma.”
General Counsel for Johnson & Johnson, Michael Ullmann, said in a public statement: “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.”
Balkman’s decision and the ruling in this case could impact the way in which other states try similar types of cases. The opioid epidemic has killed more than 400,000 Americans from 1999-2017 according to a CDC report.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter claims J&J knew the addiction risks of opioids as early as the 1990s and cost the state $12.7 billion to $17.5 billion. Originally, Oklahoma was seeking more than $17 billion in restitution.
Despite the evidence presented against them, J&J maintains that its marketing and promotion tactics were “appropriate and responsible.” They called current and former employees as well as doctors to testify in their defense.
To learn more about this case and why it was decided in favor of the state of Oklahoma, read the full ruling here.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) . Your call is anonymous and operators are available to assist 24/7.
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About the Author: Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, political analyst and literary agent. She appears almost weekly for “Staggers State of Things” on the Dr. Vibe Show. Her work has been published by Paper Magazine, AfroPunk, The Spool, GREY Journal, MTV News, HuffPost, Blavity, Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, New York Review of Books and a host of other first-run publications and syndicated outlets. Find her on Twitter @AishaStaggers. For more of her work, check out her page here!