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Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572 Million for Role in State’s Opioid Epidemic

August 26, 2019 by Dan McCue
OxyContin, in 80 mg pills, in a 2013 file image. (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

An Oklahoma judge on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in fueling the state’s opioid abuse crisis.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling concluded the first state opioid case to make it to trial.

In handing it down, he said “the opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately.”

“For this reason, I’m entering an abatement plan that consists of costs totaling $572,102,028 to immediately remediate the nuisance,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries are expected to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The outcome is expected to have broad implications for the more than 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by local, state and tribal governments that have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

With Balkman’s ruling, a judge, for the first time has said drug companies can be held liable for the national health crisis of opioid addiction.

Prior to the start of the Johnson & Johnson trial in late May, Oklahoma had reached settlements with two other defendants, with Oxycontin maker Purdue Parma agreeing to pay the state $270 million and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. agreeing to pay $85 million.

In the underlying lawsuit, Oklahoma claimed the drug makers overstated how effective their products were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.

According to the state Attorney General’s office, 4,653 residents of the state were killed by opioid overdoses between 2007 and 2017.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said on Twitter Monday morning that the state’s case revealed how “corporate greed got in the way of responsible practices at Johnson & Johnson.”

Attorneys for the company countered by arguing their clients did nothing illegal and that they are part of a heavily-regulated industry subject to strict oversight by a number of federal agencies. 

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