An Oklahoma judge on Monday August 26, ordered drug manufacturing giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in a landmark opioid trial likely to reverberate in lawsuits across the nation. The case was closely followed across the nation as there are currently more than 2,000 lawsuits filed by city, county and tribal governments in the United States against manufacturers, distributors and retailers of prescription painkillers.
The Oklahoma court ruled that Johnson & Johnson intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids, thereby leading to opioid crisis in the state. It was the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers.
“The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to all of us,” Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman said. “The defendants … misleading marketing and promotion of opioids … compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans,” he added.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says opioid overdoses killed more than 4,600 people in the state from 2007 to 2017. The state has estimated it will take $17.5 billion over 30 years to abate the crisis.
“Our case revealed how corporate greed got in the way of responsible practices by Johnson & Johnson,” Hunter tweeted Monday. “Thousands of Oklahomans have died as a result.”
“That’s the message to other states: We did it in Oklahoma. You can do it elsewhere,” Hunter said. “Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their activities.”
The lead lawyers for the federal litigation issued a statement Monday calling the Oklahoma ruling a critical step for their consolidated cases ahead of the trial set to begin Oct. 21.
Balkman’s decision “serves as another milestone amid the mounting evidence against the opioid pharmaceutical industry who we allege started, fueled, and conspired to create the largest public health crisis of our time,” the statement said.
An attorney for Johnson & Johnson said they plan to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In closing arguments last month, lawyers for the pharmaceutical giant said the company was part of a lawful, heavily regulated industry serving a critical health need.
Founded in 1886, Johnson & Johnson develops medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods. The New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company is ranked No. 37 on the 2018 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. J&J is one of the world’s most valuable companies.