Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $572m in opioid trial
Johnson & Johnson has lost a crucial lawsuit in Oklahoma as a judge decided it is responsible for bills related to the state’s opioid crisis, in a ruling that increases the likelihood that other opioid makers settle some of the thousands of pending cases.
Judge Thad Balkman ruled that the world’s largest healthcare company had caused a “public nuisance” in the state of Oklahoma and ordered it to pay $572m for an abatement plan to help cover the costs of the crisis. That is far less than the $17bn that Mike Hunter, Oklahoma’s attorney-general, had argued was the full cost of the crisis.
The company’s shares rose 4 per cent in after-hours trading.
The verdict comes as up to 22 opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies are trying to negotiate a settlement with the almost 2,000 municipalities pursuing them in a case due to go to court in October.
The companies are also facing legal action from the majority of US states, many of which have not yet named J&J as a defendant. Oklahoma’s victory may embolden other states to pursue J&J, which has deeper pockets than opioid makers like Purdue Pharma, which has said it is considering filing for bankruptcy.
J&J said it will appeal against the verdict. The company had refuted the allegations, arguing it did not mismarket its opioids and only had a small market share in Oklahoma. It also pushed back at the state’s use of a public nuisance claim and its proposed plan for abatement, saying that it would be unprecedented to order payments rather than forcing the activity to be stopped
Oklahoma is one of many states that have suffered as an opioid epidemic swept the US. The state’s attorney-general said that in 2009, drug overdose deaths surpassed car crash deaths, and in 2012, there were 128 painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in Oklahoma.