KUALA LUMPUR, August 28 — An Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state US$572 million in the first trial of a pharmaceutical company over the opioid crisis ravaging the United States.
The New York Times (NYT) reported that Judge Thad Balkman from Cleveland County, District Court, ruled Monday that Johnson & Johnson had promulgated “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” and babies born exposed to opioids.
Oklahoma reportedly argued that Johnson & Johnson, which contracts with poppy growers in Tasmania, supplied 60 per cent of the opiate ingredients used by drug manufacturers for opioids like oxycodone and aggressively marketed prescription painkillers to doctors and patients as safe and effective.
A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, makes its own opioids — a pill whose rights were sold in 2015 and a fentanyl patch that is still being produced.
According to Oklahoma’s attorney general Mike Hunter, 18 million opioid prescriptions were written from 2015 to 2018 in Oklahoma that has a population of 3.9 million people. Since 2000, about 6,000 Oklahoma residents have perished from opioid overdoses, with thousands more getting addicted to painkillers.
“We’ve shown that J & J was at the root cause of this opioid crisis,” Brad Beckworth, the lead attorney for Oklahoma, was quoted saying.
““It made billions of dollars from it over a 20-year period. 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.”
Michael Ullmann, the general counsel and executive vice president of Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement about the Oklahoma case that the company’s subsidiary, Janssen, did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and “neither the facts nor the law support this outcome.”
“We recognise the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue,” he said, “and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected.”