An Oklahoma judge ruled on Monday that Johnson & Johnson was responsible for helping to fuel the state’s opioid epidemic through the intense marketing of its pain medications. Although the $572 million fine levied against the company was far less than the $17 billion sought by the state, it is one of the largest penalties in U.S. history and the case could provide a framework for a plethora of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies in other states.
Johnson & Johnson has supplied opiate ingredients used by other drug companies, and its pharmaceutical division, Janssen Pharmaceuticals has made its own opioid medications. Judge Thad Balkman of the Cleveland County District Court found that Johnson & Johnson breached Oklahoma’s public nuisance laws, noting in his ruling that the company had engaged in “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that increased the state’s rates of addiction, overdose deaths and babies born exposed to opioids.
Along with Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals also were originally named in the Oklahoma lawsuit, but before going to trial, those companies agreed to settlements in which they would pay $270 million and $85 million, respectively, but not admit to wrongdoing. Johnson & Johnson was the only company named in the suit to go to trial, and a J&J representative said in a post-trial news conference that the company plans to appeal Monday’s ruling.
The Oklahoma case could be a preview for a massive upcoming federal trial in which nearly 2,000 cases against pharmaceutical companies have been consolidated and sent to a federal judge in the Northern District of Ohio. That trial is slated to begin Oct. 21 in Cleveland, Ohio.