“False, misleading and dangerous marketing campaigns” were used to help push sales of opioids by Johnson & Johnson, according to a ruling from Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court.
In a first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destructions caused by prescription painkillers, the Oklahoma judge has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million. The judge ruled that the company deliberately played down the dangers of opioids, and exaggerated the benefits of them. He also found that Johnson & Johnson had breached the state’s “public nuisance” law.
Judge Balkman said that the $572 million is to pay for a year’s worth of services, such as addiction treatment, drug courts, and other services needed to combat the epidemic in Oklahoma.
While the amount is much smaller than the $17 billion that Oklahoma was seeking to pay for services it would need over the next 20 years to fix the damage done by the opioid epidemic, it is a landmark decision that gives other states and cities hope.
There are more than 2,000 opioid lawsuits pending across the country right now, with lawyers representing states and cities pursuing a legal strategy similar to Oklahoma’s.
Johnson & Johnson, who has contracts with poppy growers in Tasmania, supplies most of the nation’s opiate ingredients that other drug companies use for opioids. It is refined by one of its companies from a particular variety of poppy that Johnson & Johnson has developed and grows in Tasmania. And Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, made its own opioids and a fentanyl patch.
On top of supplying the ingredients, the state argued that they aggressively marketed those opioids to doctors and patients, claiming them to be safe and effective. From 2000 to 2011, members of Johnson & Johnson’s sales staff made approximately 150,000 visits to doctors in Oklahoma, and particularly focused on high-volume prescribers.
According to Brad Beckworth, the lead attorney for the state of Oklahoma, this trial shows that Johnson & Johnson “was at the root cause of this opioid crisis.” He says that the company “made billions of dollars” from the opioid crisis over a 20-year period, although “they’ve always denied responsibility.”
In Oklahoma, there were previous settlements with two other drug manufacturers that also produce opioids earlier this year. The state sued two other drug manufacturers, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals in addition to Johnson & Johnson.
Both of them settled with the state without admitting wrongdoing, instead of going to trial. Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $270 million, and Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay $85 million.