Johnson & Johnson caused Oklahoma’s opioid crisis by pushing pain pills on the state and lying about their safety, a judge has declared in a landmark ruling, imposing a penalty on the pharma giant that amounts to pocket change.
The company “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court ruled on Monday, declaring the “misleading marketing and promotion” of its products had “compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans.”
Johnson & Johnson’s drugs division, Janssen, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients used to manufacture the deadly painkillers and lied about the safety and effectiveness of its products, state prosecutors charged. Using misleading promotional tactics to convince doctors to overlook the addiction risk, Janssen pushed opioids – including its own drugs, Duragesic and Nucynta – on medical professionals by colluding with pain patient advocacy organizations to enshrine pain as the “fifth vital sign” and opioids as the obvious remedy.
The Johnson & Johnson suit is the first public-nuisance lawsuit against a drug company to go to trial, and Oklahoma’s victory means that the case will likely pave the way for future legal action against drug companies.
The state had sought $17 billion from Johnson & Johnson to remediate the crisis – a process Oklahoma officials claimed would end up costing between $12.7 and $17.5 billion. It was awarded just $572 million, a sum Balkman said was the maximum allowed under the public nuisance law and which pales in comparison to the company’s annual revenues, which totaled $82 billion last year. However, he left the door open to “additional programs and funding” that could be required “over an extended period of time.”
“Johnson & Johnson, motivated by greed and avarice, is responsibility for the opioid epidemic in our state,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said at a press conference following the ruling, adding that the company “will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addiction caused by their activities” and its insistence on continuing those activities despite warnings from its own scientific advisers.
We have proven that Johnson & Johnson have built its billion dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of pain and suffering of innocent people.
Opioid overdoses have killed about 6,000 Oklahomans since 2000, and almost 400,000 people nationwide from 1999 to 2017. Americans are more likely to die of an overdose than in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council.
Oklahoma had also filed suit against Purdue Pharma, which invented OxyContin in 1996, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, but both companies settled out of court before the trial began. Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the ruling, its attorneys said on Monday. A similar lawsuit was filed against both Johnson & Johnson and Teva in West Virginia earlier this month.