An Oklahoma judge on Monday found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis and ordered the consumer products giant to pay $572 million, more than twice the amount another drug manufacturer agreed to pay in a settlement.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over roughly 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local, and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.
The companies are expected to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
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 said opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017. “We have proven that Johnson and Johnson built its billion dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of pain and suffering of innocent people,” Hunter said.
He added, “At the end of the day you can’t sit in a corporate suite somewhere for the last 20 years and oversupply the country,” said Hunter.
“There’s no question in my mind that these companies knew what was going on at the highest level. They just couldn’t quit making money from it. And that’s why they’re responsible.”
Attorneys for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight, including the U.S. 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.”
“We are disappointed and disagree with the judge’s decision,” said Strong.
“We do not believe that the facts or the law supports the decision today. We have many strong grounds for appeal. And we intend to pursue those vigorously.”
Includes reporting from The Associated Press