Johnson & Johnson: Landmark Opioid Trial

Earlier this week, a judge in Oklahoma ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state of OK $572 million in the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers. The judge ruled the company had intentionally played down the dangers of opioids while overselling the benefits. While the amount fell short of the $17 billion OK sought to pay for addiction treatment, drug courts, and other services needed to repair the damage done by the opioid epidemic, the decision and amount has heartened other lawyers representing multiple states and cities in more than 2,000 other opioid lawsuits pending across the country and pursuing similar legal strategies.
Judge Balkman was harsh in his assessment of the company that has built its reputation on being responsible and family-friendly, writing that Johnson & Johnson had promulgated “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that caused “exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” as well as babies born exposed to opioids. Johnson & Johnson contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania and supplied 60% of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone. In addition to supplying the ingredients, they also aggressively marketed opioids as safe and effective to doctors and patients alike. Judge Balkman feels the amount awarded could pay for a year’s worth of services needed to combat the epidemic in OK. Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, also stated that cumulatively the state has been able to put together a billion dollars; this amount includes money from previous settlements with other drug manufacturers that produce opioids.
Although Sabrina Strong, a lawyer for Johnson & Johnson, has stated the company has many grounds for appeal that they intend to pursue vigorously, this case was closely watched by many other lawyers representing many other pending opioid cases in federal courts. They felt cheered on by the ruling, stating “While public nuisance laws differ in every state, this decision is a critical step forward.” To learn more about Johnson & Johnson’s take on the ruling, and the first federal opioid trial upcoming in Cleveland, visit here.