Source: NBC News.com
A judge in Oklahoma has ordered Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay over $572 million for pushing doctors to prescribe opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction, actions that state prosecutors said helped fuel the state’s opioid epidemic and led to more than 6,000 deaths over nearly two decades.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter claimed in court that the sales push by Johnson & Johnson and its pharmaceutical subsidiary, Janssen, starting in the 1990s had created “a public nuisance” that led to the deaths.
J&J denied any wrongdoing. Attorney, John Sparks said state prosecutors had misinterpreted the public nuisance law, having previously limited it to disputes involving property or public spaces. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman disagreed, and said that Johnson & Johnson’s “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance” in the state.”
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma, it must be abated immediately,” the judge said in court.
Michael Ullmann, the company’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement that J&J did not create the opioid crisis in Oklahoma and plans to appeal the decision.
“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states,” Ullman said. “The unprecedented award for the State’s ‘abatement plan’ has sweeping ramifications for many industries and bears no relation to the Company’s medicines or conduct.”
In Balkman’s full written decision, he stated that the pharmaceutical company’s sales program was designed to reach doctors multiple times throughout their careers. According to the court’s ruling:
J&J pushed an “education” program through sales representatives, funded articles in medical journals and paid speakers. None of these programs properly addressed the risks of addiction and there was no training provided to sales representatives on the history of opioid use or addiction.
“The Defendants’ opioid marketing, in its multitude of forms, was false, deceptive and misleading,” according to the written decision.
The case was seen as a litmus test for nearly 2,000 pending opioid cases before a federal judge in Ohio, especially as other pharmaceutical companies faced with similar accusations have chosen to settle.