A judge in Oklahoma has issued a ruling against Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) in case over its role in the current opioid epidemic and has ordered it to pay the state $572 million. The decision, handed down by Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court, said that Johnson & Johnson had promulgated “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” and babies born exposed to opioids.
It was the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers. Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay Oklahoma $270 million and $85 million, respectively, to settle cases against them.
Oklahoma has seen a great deal of damage from opioids, calling the epidemic a public health disaster. Since 2000, roughly 6,000 Oklahomans have died from opioid overdoses and thousands more are suffering from addiction. Between 2015 and 2018, 18 million opioid prescriptions were written in the state, which has a population of 3.9 million.
Johnson & Johnson, one the world’s biggest health care companies, has built its reputation as a responsible and family-friendly maker of baby products, soaps, and first aid supplies. But the company also supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone from a variety of poppy that Johnson & Johnson developed and grew in Tasmania. A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, made its own opioids for distribution.
During the trial, Johnson & Johnson said blame for the epidemic could not fairly be placed on the company, whose share of opioid sales was scarcely 1 percent of the market. The judge disagreed and found that Johnson & Johnson perpetuated a “public nuisance” by substantially contributing to an ongoing public health crisis. To calculate the $572 million judgment, Judge Balkman relied on the state’s detailed estimates of what it would cost to remediate the effects of the opioid epidemic, saying that the award could pay for a year’s worth of services needed to combat the epidemic.