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Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $572m in opioid trial

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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

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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.

Via Financial Times

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