An Oklahoma judge ruled that the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the opioid crisis in the state and ordered the company to pay $572 million, The New York Times reports.
Though the ruling marks the first time a drugmaker has been ordered to pay for the destructive effects wrought by prescription painkillers, the sum falls far short of the $17 billion Oklahoma had sought in order to pay for the costs of “addiction treatment, drug courts and other services it said it would need over the next 20 years to repair the damage done by the opioid epidemic,” The Times reported.
The decision opens the door for more than 2,000 opioid lawsuits pending around the United States. Many of the lawsuits are based on the same legal justification as the Oklahoma suit, which argued that the company violated the state’s “public nuisance” law.
Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the ruling.
Judge rips company for lying about opioid dangers:
Judge Thad Balkman wrote in his ruling that Johnson & Johnson used “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” as well as children born exposed to opioids.
“Johnson & Johnson, which contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone, the state argued, and aggressively marketed opioids to doctors and patients as safe and effective,” The Times reported. “A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, made its own opioids — a pill whose rights it sold in 2015, and a fentanyl patch that it still produces.”
Brad Beckworth, the lead attorney for Oklahoma in the lawsuit, said that the ruling showed that Johnson & Johnson “was at the root cause of this opioid crisis.”
“It made billions of dollars from it over a 20-year period,” he said. “They’ve always denied responsibility and yet at the same time they say they want to make a difference in solving this problem. So do the right thing: Come in here, pay the judgment.”
Despite ruling, stock rises:
The company’s stock rose after the ruling after The Times reported that investors anticipated a judgement of $1 billion or more.
“If you’re a giant public-facing U.S. Corporation, one way to know if you have been very bad or people think you have been very bad, is if a judge, say, in Oklahoma rules from the bench against you, holding you liable for some of the worst things that have happened to Americans in the past 20 years, and that judge orders you as a company to pay more than $572 million for what you have done — the judge orders you to pay more than half a billion dollars — one way to know that you have been a very bad company or at least people perceive you to have been very bad, is if in reaction to that news, your stock price as a company actually goes up 5% because, ‘whew, that’s a relief.’ Everybody thought you were so bad it was possible you were going to be paying billions of dollars, like $10 billion, $15 billion, $17 billion,” quipped MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.