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Johnson & Johnson Loses Landmark Opioid Lawsuit

Opioid epidemic, painkillers and drug abuse concept with close up on a bottle of prescription drugs and hydrocodone pills falling out of it on white
By Andrew Leonatti on August 27, 2019 9:16 AM

A judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson played a role in the state’s opioid addiction and overdose epidemic, slapping the company with a $572 million fine.

While the state of Oklahoma sought $17.1 billion in damages from the prescription drug manufacturing giant, the verdict still represents the first loss at trial for the industry. Some companies have chosen to settle lawsuits brought by states, counties, and municipalities.

Opioids a ‘Menace’ to Society

The lawsuit, filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, accused the company of creating a public nuisance by lying in its marketing of the drugs Duragesic and Nucynta.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman wrote that Johnson & Johnson’s “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns have caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction [and] overdose deaths.”

The state also settled lawsuits with Purdue Pharma LP for $270 million and Teva for $85 million, leaving the state with a large pot of money to begin dealing with the effects of the opioid crisis.

A Mixed Bag of a Verdict

While Oklahoma did prevail, the amount falls far short of what officials sought. The $17.1 billion was officials’ estimate of the 30-year cost of funding addiction treatment and prevention programs. However, Balkman found in his verdict that the state failed to prove the need for that money beyond the next year.

One activist criticized the ruling as “short sighted,” noting that the effects of this crisis will rage on for years to come.

One attorney involved in a large federal lawsuit against the drug companies, however, said the verdict amount would be the equivalent of $38 billion a year to cover the costs of cleaning up the mess across the country. 

What Happens Next?

Johnson & Johnson announced that it would appeal the verdict and will ask the judge to put his ruling on hold until the appeal plays out. Ironically, since the judgment amount came in much lower than expected, Johnson & Johnson’s share price increased by more than 5% in the immediate aftermath of the ruling. The stock prices of other drug makers involved in litigation rose as well.

But this ruling is far from the end of the drug companies’ trouble. A consolidated case of more than 2,000 lawsuits will go to trial in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, in October. We could still see a bank-busting settlement or verdict that echoes the $246 billion settlement paid by tobacco giants in the 1990s.

As these lawsuits continue to work their way through the courts, there is still time for you to take legal action if you’ve been affected by this crisis.

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