A judge in the U.S. state of Oklahoma ruled that Johnson & Johnson has to pay damages of $572 million (€515 million) to abate the opioid epidemic in the state.
The lawsuit alleged that the company’s marketing practices helped to fuel the opioid crisis in the state.
Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court delivered the verdict after the non-jury trial.
He said the “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids” had “compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans…evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.”
The office of the state’s top law officer, Attorney General Mike Hunter, who brought the case, said it was the first ruling of its kind “to find an opioid manufacturer liable for the harm caused from the opioid crisis in the United States.”
Since 2000 approximately 6,000 Oklahomans died from an opioid overdose, the state’s lawyers said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in roughly 400,000 overdose deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2017.
“Our evidence convincingly showed that this company did not just lie and mislead, they colluded with other companies in route to the deadliest manmade epidemic our nation has ever seen,” Attorney General Hunter said about the ruling.
“When deaths and sales of the drugs began to skyrocket in tandem, the company repeatedly ignored the problem and built its billion-dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of the pain and suffering of Oklahomans,” he said in a statement.
Johnson & Johnson will appeal the judgement, the company said in a statement, emphasising that they did not cause the opioid crisis. The company’s General Counsel Michael Ullmann said that the judgement was a “misapplication of public nuisance law”.
The company said that the pain medicines of Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s main pharmaceutical company, accounted for less than 1% of total opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma and the United States.
Hunter, meanwhile, said that the case had to be tried and that the “facts had to see sunlight.”
“That’s been accomplished here and at the end of the day you can’t sit in a corporate suite somewhere for the last 20 years and oversupply the country,” he said.