Oklahoma judge orders Johnson & Johnson to pay $572M in opioid suit

The judgement involves a case with Johnson & Johnson.

August 26, 2019, 5:21 PM

An Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay in excess of $572 million as part of a lawsuit about the spread of the opioid epidemic in the state.

The settlement order is a landmark decision, coming months after a different pharmaceutical company was ordered to pay $270 million for their role in the crisis.

On Monday, Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman made his judgment in the lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma attorney general against the company for what the state alleges it did to fuel the U.S. opioid crisis.

In reading out his settlement decision, Balman said that "the opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma." The nine-figure settlement, while hefty, pales in comparison to what the attorney general's office originally asked for, as they reportedly asked for in excess of $17 billion in damages.

Johnson & Johnson released a statement noting that the company plans to appeal the judgment. Johnson & Johnson has denied wrongdoing in the case.

"Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” Michael Ullmann, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson said, referencing a subsidiary pharmaceutical company also named in the suit. "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."

Ullman went on to say that "this judgment 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," he said in the statement.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter spoke to reporters briefly after the settlement was ordered.

"We're very proud to be where we are today," Hunter told reporters.

When asked if he viewed today as a day of reckoning because of the settlement, he said "there's no question about it."

In a statement about the case in Jul about the case in July, Hunter said "our case has revealed how corporate greed got in the way of responsible practices by Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries."

"Throughout trial our team repeatedly laid waste to the state's case, which it built on misstatements and distortions," attorney John Sparks, who is representing Johnson & Johnson and their subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., said after closing statements, according to The Associated Press.

"The facts are that Janssen appropriately provided essential pain treatment options to Oklahomans while balancing the inherent risks associated with these medicines," Sparks said, according to the AP.

Hunter disagrees, saying in his July statement that the state's evidence "has shown how the company perpetuated the epidemic through the targeting of high prescribing doctors, repeatedly ignoring warnings to clean up its act by the federal government and its own scientific advisers and the myriad of other deceitful practices on its way to selling more highly addictive drugs to a vulnerable population."

The case against Johnson & Johnson comes after Purdue Pharma settled with Oklahoma in March for $270 million.

Of that settlement, $200 million was earmarked for the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery, which conducts treatment and research, with the remainder of the settlement going towards the state's legal fees and local initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic.

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