August 27, 2019
Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries has been found guilty of helping to fuel the Oklahoma opioid crisis and fined $572million.
Johnson & Johnson Hit By $572m Fine Over Oklahoma Opioid Crisis
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling on Monday followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape a further 1,500 similar lawsuits already filed.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma,” Judge Balkman said before announcing the judgment. “It must be abated immediately.”An attorney for the companies said they plan to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Before Oklahoma’s trial began in May, the state reached settlements with two other defendant groups — a $270 million deal with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and an $85 million settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
Oklahoma argued the companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.
Hunter called Johnson & Johnson a “kingpin” company that was motivated by greed. He specifically pointed to two former Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries, Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids, which produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs.
On Monday, Hunter said the Oklahoma case could provide a “road map” for other states to follow in holding drugmakers responsible for the opioid crisis.
“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.”
Among those in the courtroom on Monday were Craig and Gail Box, whose son Austin was a 22-year-old linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners when he died of a prescription drug overdose in 2011.
One of the attorneys for the state, Reggie Whitten, said he also lost a son to opioid abuse.
“I feel like my boy is looking down,” Whitten said after the judge’s ruling, his voice cracking with emotion.
Oklahoma pursued the case under the state’s public nuisance statute and presented the judge with a plan to abate the crisis that would cost between $12.6 billion for 20 years and $17.5 billion over 30 years. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said that estimate is wildly inflated. The judge’s award would cover the costs of one year of the state’s abatement plan, funding things like opioid use prevention and addiction treatment.
Lawyers for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight, including the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, during every step of the supply chain. Lawyers for the company said the judgment was a misapplication of public nuisance law.
Sabrina Strong, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, said the companies have sympathy for those who suffer from substance abuse but called the judge’s decision “flawed.”
“You can’t sue your way out of the opioid abuse crisis,” Strong said. “Litigation is not the answer.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the cases consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio called the Oklahoma judgment “a milestone amid the mounting evidence against the opioid pharmaceutical industry.”
“While public nuisance laws differ in every state, this decision is a critical step forward for the more than 2,000 cities, counties, and towns we represent in the consolidation of federal opioid cases,” they said in a statement.Related... 'Generation X' Most Likely Age Group To Die By Suicide Or Drug Poisoning, Figures Show Opioid Painkillers Like Codeine Will Now Come With Clear Addiction Warnings Doctors Urged To Be More Vigilant Prescribing Opioid Painkillers – This Is Why This Is Why A Major UK Arts Donor Is Embroiled In A Settlement Over America's Opioid Crisis
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