Opioid Maker Ordered to Pay $572 Million in Case Brought By State of Oklahoma

AUGUST 26, 2019
Kristen Coppock, MA, Editor
A $572 million judgment against opioid maker Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies was issued Monday afternoon in Oklahoma’s Cleveland County District Court. The ruling is part of an ongoing case between the State of Oklahoma and multiple opioid manufacturers.1,2

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a lawsuit in 2017 against the New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers of opioid pain medications. In the filing on behalf of the state, he claimed these companies utilized deceptive marketing campaigns over the previous decade, which helped fuel the state’s opioid epidemic.3

Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma agreed to a $270 settlement to the State of Oklahoma in the same case with those funds to be utilized for abatement initiatives.3 However, Johnson & Johnson has vowed to appeal Monday’s decision by Judge Thad Balkman.1

In a prepared statement, Johnson & Johnson representatives said they believe Balkman’s decision to be flawed, and they noted that it disregards the company’s compliance with state and federal laws, as well as the role that its’ medicines play for people who need them. The company also noted that the products in question have accounted for less than 1% of the opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma and the United States.1

“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” said Michael Ullmann, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Johnson & Johnson, in a prepared statement.1

“This judgement is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states. 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,” Ullmann added.1

A motion filed by Johnson & Johnson for directed judgement was denied by Balkman last month. In that motion, the company argued that there was not enough evidence for a trial.4

Following Monday's ruling, Hunter celebrated the outcome, calling the decision "a major victory for the State of Oklahoma, the nation and everyone who has lost a loved one because of an opioid overdose."5 

On Monday, attorneys for the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee (PEC) with the National Prescription Opiate Litigation (NPOL) case in US District Court of the Northern District of Ohio also applauded Balkman’s $572 million ruling.2

“The ruling in favor of the State of Oklahoma’s public nuisance claims confirms what communities have been saying for some time: the opioid epidemic significantly interfered with public health. While public nuisance laws differ in every state, this decision is a critical step forward for the more than 2000 cities, counties, and towns we represent in the consolidation of federal opioid cases,” said PEC attorneys, in a prepared statement.2
 
According to Johnson & Johnson, the company has been working to address the needs of those impacted by the opioid crisis. Officials said the company has sponsored education programs for thousands of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists across the United States, to help them to be better able to address substance abuse and addiction. Johnson & Johnson is also collaborating with 3 academic institutions to identify evidence-based best practices that can empower nurses and other health care practitioners to effectively respond to the opioid crisis at the community level.1

“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,” said Ullmann.1

Purdue’s settlement calls for that company to utilize funds to establish the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Tulsa. The company also agreed to not promote opioids in Oklahoma, including employing or contracting with sales representatives to health care providers in the state.3


References
  1. Johnson & Johnson To Appeal Flawed Opioid Judgment in Oklahoma [news release]. New Brunswick, NJ; August 26, 2019: Janssen website. https://www.janssen.com/us/sites/www_janssen_com_usa/files/johnson_johnson_to_appeal_flawed_opioid_judgment_in_oklahoma.pdf. Accessed August 27, 2019.
  2. J&J Found Guilty in Oklahoma - Statement from Federal Opioid Litigation Co-Lead Plaintiff Attorneys [news release]. Los Angeles, CA; August 26, 2019: Sunshine Sachs. [email] Accessed August 26, 2019.
  3. Coppock K. Opioid Maker Agrees to Pay $270M for Addiction Treatment in Oklahoma. PharmacyTimes website. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/opioid-mak-agrees-to-pay-270m-for-addiction-treatment-in-oklahoma. Published March 26, 2019. Accessed August 26, 2019. 
  4. Attorney General Hunter Comments on Judge Balkman Denial of Defendants’ Motion for Directed Judgment [news release]. Norman, OK; July 8, 2019: Mike Hunter, Oklahoma Attorney General website. http://www.oag.ok.gov/attorney-general-hunter-comments-on-judge-balkman-denial-of-defendants-motion-for-directed-judgment. Accessed August 26, 2019. 
  5. Attorney General Hunter Celebrates Major Victor for the State after Judge Balkman Issues $572 Million Judgment in Opioid Trial [news release]. Norman, OK; August 26, 2019: Mike Hunter, Oklahoma Attorney General [email]. Accessed August 2019. 


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