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J&J must pay $572 million for fuelling opioid crisis in Oklahoma, judge says

Published on 27/08/19 at 09:57am

A judge in Oklahoma has said that Johnson & Johnson must pay $572 million for the part it played in fuelling the opioid crisis which kills more than 130 a day in the United States.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman has said Johnson & Johnson must pay the state of Oklahoma $572,102,028, after Oklahoma prosecutors demanded more than $17 billion in payment over the role the firm played in worsening the opioid crisis through aggressively marketing opioid drugs.

The case rested on J&J’s pharma subsidiary, Janssen’s, role in causing a “public nuisance” by aggressively marketing opioids. While the argument had in the past been used against ‘Big Tobacco’, Balkman’s ruling sets a precedent for holding opioid drugmakers accountable for the opioid crisis in future trials.   

In a press conference on Monday, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said: “We showed how the company repeatedly ignored warnings by the federal governments and its own scientific advisers about the dangers of its drugs and the risks of marketing its products the way it did. We have proven that Johnson & Johnson have built its billion dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of pain and suffering of innocent people.”

Hunter added: “We can never bring back those who have never lost their lives because Johnson and Johnson executes made the calculated and cold-blooded decision that they were going to produce a mutant strain of poppy, corner the market and supply massive amounts of the active ingredients for other companies to manufacture opioids around the nation and in Oklahoma.”

The US healthcare conglomerate now plans to appeal. In a short statement on Monday, a J&J spokesperson said: “Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the opioid judgment in Oklahoma.”

Johnson & Johnson's attorney, Sabrina Strong, added: “When you're right, you fight. And that's what you're seeing here. We have sympathy for those who suffer from substance abuse. But Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in this country.”

The ruling comes after Teva and Purdue Pharma settled the case, which named multiple defendants, for $355 million, without admitting wrongdoing. However, J&J decided to take the case to trial.

Louis Goss

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