An Oklahoma judge has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in fueling the state’s opioid crisis. The landmark decision concludes the first state trial that attempts to hold a pharmaceutical company responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said in his ruling that the opioid epidemic has “ravaged” the state.
In his ruling, Balkman wrote that the defendants “engaged in false and misleading marketing of both their drugs and opioids generally, and the law makes clear that such conduct is more than enough to serve as the act or omission necessary to establish the first element of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law.”
General counsel for Johnson & Johnson called the ruling a “misapplication of the public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states.” The company plans to appeal the ruling.
Oklahoma is just one of dozens of states that are suing opioid manufacturers, but this case was the first to go to trial. A federal trial is slated for fall and will include nearly 2,000 cases involving cities, counties, tribal lands and communities.
The state previously settled with two other opioid drugmakers: Teva Pharmaceuticals for $85 million and Purdue Pharma for $270 million. Teva is a leading provider of generic drugs, and Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of OxyContin.
In the final plea to Balkman, the state of Oklahoma sought $1.72 billion in damages over Johnson & Johnson’s role in the opioid epidemic. The state argued that the pharmaceutical company was a “public nuisance.”
In its filing, Johnson & Johnson called the state’s case “flimsy” and claimed that it had “undeniably failed to prove its case.”
The drug company argued that the state offered no explanation on how Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, contributed to the opioid epidemic. In its filing, the company maintained that it did nothing wrong.