In a landmark ruling that could reshape the legal battle for pharmaceutical companies accused of facilitating the U.S. opioid crisis, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for helping ignite the epidemic of addiction and overdoses in that state.
The ruling by Judge Thad Balkman, of Cleveland County District Court, is the first of its kind against a drugmaker and is likely to inform thousands of cases like it across the country. “The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,” Judge Balkman said, adding that the state had met its burden to prove that Johnson & Johnson willfully misled the public about the addictive nature of opioid painkillers with deceptive marketing and promotions.
The lawsuit from Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter also named J&J’s pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen. Hunter cited data saying that some 6,000 Oklahomans have died from opioid overdoses since 2000, according to the New York Times.
Johnson & Johnson said it plans to appeal the ruling. “Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” said the company’s general counsel, Michael Ullmann, in a statement. “We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need.”
Shares of Johnson & Johnson stock were up 2% in after-hours trading. You can read Judge Balkman’s full ruling here.