A judge in Oklahoma ruled on Monday that the pharmaceutical giant helped create an opioid crisis throughout the state from their marketing tactics

By Joelle Goldstein
August 26, 2019 09:43 PM
Cristina Arias/Getty

Johnson & Johnson was slammed by a major court ruling over the opioid addiction crisis this week.

On Monday, a judge in Oklahoma ruled that Johnson & Johnson must pay $572 million for its part in helping create an opioid crisis throughout the state — a decision that the giant pharmaceutical company vehemently denied and plans on appealing.

The Cleveland County District Court judge in Oklahoma agreed with state lawyers who claimed that Johnson & Johnson’s lengthy marketing plan and tactics intentionally minimized the risks of using the addictive painkillers, BBC News reports.

Instead, lawyers said, the health care company promoted opioid’s benefits, marketing them as safe and effective, during the seven-week, non-jury trial.

The state’s attorneys even referred to Johnson & Johnson as an opioid “kingpin” whose marketing campaign was the cause of a “public nuisance” where doctors were over-prescribing painkillers to patients and therefore, increasing the total number of overdose-related deaths in Oklahoma.

From 1999 to 2017, nearly 400,000 overdose deaths involved opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately 6,000 people have died from opioid overdoses in Oklahoma since 2000, state lawyers said, per BBC News.

Johnson & Johnson reportedly supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies use for addictive painkillers like oxycodone, the New York Times reports.

One of their subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, also made its own opioids in a pill whose rights were sold in 2015 and a fentanyl patch that it currently owns and produces, according to the outlet.

“Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans. The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,” Judge Thad Balkman said, adding that the $572 million would go toward the care and treatment of opioid addicts, per BBC News.

Following the ruling, Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceuticals companies denied any wrongdoing in a statement on their website and shared their plans to appeal, writing “the decision in this case is flawed.”

“The judgment disregards the Company’s compliance with federal and state laws,” the statement reads. “[Painkillers] Duragesic, Nucynta, and Nucynta ER have accounted for less than one percent of total opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma as well as the United States.”

“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” Michael Ullmann, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Johnson & Johnson said.

“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need,” Ullmann continued.

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“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states,” added Ullmann. “The unprecedented award for the State’s ‘abatement plan’ has sweeping ramifications for many industries and bears no relation to the Company’s medicines or conduct.”

Besides this case, there have been thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid makers and distributors.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma settled with two opioid companies — OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma for $270 million and Teva Pharmaceutical for $85 million.

Monday’s case, brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, was the first to go to trial, according to BBC News.