Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay Up in Opioid Verdict

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August 30, 2019
Edward Smith

Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572M to Oklahoma in Landmark Opioid Verdict

The American pharmaceutical giant, Johnson & Johnson, was ordered by an Oklahoma judge to pay $572 million in damages for its role in the ongoing opioid crisis.

This historic ruling came on Monday, making the company the first opioid manufacturer to ever have been deemed legally responsible by a court.

Many believe this will have significant implications for several other lawsuits that have been filed against the opioid manufacturers across the US.

Oklahoma had filed a $17.5 billion lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that the company was responsible for provoking the opioid crisis that led to the death of over 6,000 people in the state.

It should be noted that the Oklahoma ruling is the first-ever to hold a pharmaceutical manufacturer liable for one of the worst drug epidemics in the country.

After presiding over a 7-week civil trial in Norman, Oklahoma, Judge Thad Balkman delivered the verdict.

He issued a statement saying that the defendants caused the drug crisis, which is evidenced by increased numbers of addiction, neonatal abstinence syndrome, and overdose deaths in the state of Oklahoma.

The lawsuit was filed by Mike Hunter, Attorney General of Oklahoma. According to the court statements, the suit alleged that Johnson & Johnson helped fuel a public health crisis through their pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen. The documents also state that this crisis is responsible for killing thousands of people in Oklahoma.

False Marketing Campaign by J&J

The conclusion reached by the Oklahoma judge clearly states that the company was not just a careless bystander in the opioid crisis. In fact, they actually had an active involvement in deceptive conduct.

Judge Balkman also said that the pharmaceutical giant engaged in a misleading, false, and deceptive advertising campaign to convince the healthcare workers, physicians, patients, and the general public that opioids are effective and safe for treating chronic pain in the long-term.

In addition to promoting this false idea, Johnson & Johnson also made maximum efforts to convince doctors that if a patient is demanding higher doses of opioids, it doesn’t make them an addict.

The judge found that the company’s sales representatives were strictly instructed to target physicians with dangerously misleading and false messages. The court documents state that the company’s own scientific consultants vehemently advised against this decision in 2001 but the higher-ups chose to ignore it.

The ruling itemized the costs of one year of medical treatments for Oklahoma residents who are either battling with addiction or chronic pain. Prosecutors have argued that these services will prove to be vital for the next few decades to altogether terminate this drug epidemic.

Litmus Test for Other Pending Opioid Lawsuits

This case has been seen as a litmus test for thousands of other pending matters before an Ohio federal Judge, especially now that other pharmaceutical companies embroiled in similar lawsuits are trying to settle.

The manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma that is being held responsible for the opioid epidemic throughout the country, recently reached a settlement of $270 million with Oklahoma.

Teva Pharmaceutical is another company that settled for $85 million with Oklahoma mere days before it went to trial against another opioid manufacturer in Cleveland. Interestingly, both of the companies denied their involvement in any drug-based crisis.

The Attorney General of Oklahoma left no stone unturned to get J&J to cough up $17 billion in damages. This sum would have gone toward drug prevention programs and addiction treatments for the next 30 years. However, the final verdict given by the judge is only sufficient to cover one year’s worth of the program.

Ruthless Pursuit of Greed

Attorney General Mike Hunter claimed that Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical manufacturers wanted to produce a magical pill to achieve their goals growing their profits exponentially.

In their pursuit, they didn’t hesitate to ignore decades of research done by their very own scientists – research that showed the devastating impact of opioids.

The judge heard several testimonies from numerous victims of the ongoing crisis, including the father of a young college varsity player who died of an opioid overdose.

Hunter also stated that these billion-dollar companies went on a deceitful campaign to prove that opioids are “some sort of magic drug,” and it cost thousands of people their lives.

He also said that his diligent team of prosecutors successfully established that Johnson & Johnson brand has been built on nothing but greed and the suffering of innocent people.

Background of the Oklahoma Lawsuit

When Attorney General Mike Hunter filed the lawsuit in 2017, he had stated at the time that the “Big Pharma” had tricked people into believing that opioids prescribed by doctors were safe.

He alleged that there are plenty of internal documents and other evidence that prove that these companies knew exactly how dangerous these drugs are.

Hunter said that the evidence goes back to as early as 2001, and it shows that companies ignored it all, and chose to use aggressive marketing techniques so more and more people will get hooked on these drugs.

Hunter issued a statement saying that companies like Johnson & Johnson have embarked on a decade-long, fraudulent marketing campaign to profit from the pain and anguish of Oklahoma residents.

He added that these pharmaceutical companies have made over $10 billion every year while thousands of unsuspecting people have become addicts, died, or gone to prison because of the drug epidemic.

The lawsuit states that more than 326 million opioid pills were prescribed to the residents of Oklahoma in 2015 alone; that’s 110 pills for everyone in the state.

Watch YouTube Video: J&J to Pay Oklahoma $572 Million for Opioid Crisis. CBS News reports on the landmark ruling.

Wider Implications

Over 215,000 people have died in America from opioid overdoses since 1999. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death toll was 5 times higher in 2017 than 1999; about 50,000 people lost their lives in 2017 alone.

That was the year when the opioid crisis came into the national spotlight, and the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency.

According to an estimate, more than 130 people die every day in the US due to an opioid overdose. As the country continues to deal with this epidemic, this Oklahoma verdict will go down in history as the first-ever ruling to hold pharmaceutical companies legally responsible.

Sacramento Drug Products Liability Attorney

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento drug products liability attorney. If you are or a loved one has been a victim of opioids or other drugs with dangerous side effects, call me for insightful free and friendly legal advice. You can reach me at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.

I’m a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Top One Percent, a National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

Go to our verdicts/settlements page for our past cases and on Avvo, Yelp, and Google for our client reviews.

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