Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572M for ‘False Marketing’ of Opioids

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An Oklahoma judge ruled on Monday that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis and ordered the consumer products giant to pay $572 million, more than twice the amount another drug manufacturer agreed to pay in a settlement, The Associated Press reports.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said the company “bears responsibility…by aggressively marketing painkillers.”

Widely known for their infant shampoo and other family products, Johnson & Johnson has a lesser-known pharmaceutical branch of their company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Balkman wrote in his ruling that Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen “engaged in false and misleading marketing of both their drugs and opioids generally, and the law makes clear that such conduct is more than enough to serve as the act or omission necessary to establish the first element of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law,” CNN reports.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over roughly 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

Some 48 states plus around 2,000 local and tribal governments have sued companies in the drug industry, arguing those that make, distribute and sell the drugs are partly responsible for the opioid crisis.

The plaintiffs argue that drugs were improperly marketed and that companies failed to stop suspicious orders from shipping.

As the legal cases against the opioid industry accelerate, so do concerns about how the money from verdicts or settlements will be spent. Before the start of the six-week trial in May, Oklahoma reached a $270 million deal with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and an $85 million settlement with Teva, both of which faced criticism from state lawmakers, who argued they have control over dispersing funds.

Purdue Pharma said that they settled because they wanted the money to help “fund addiction research and treatment” and agreed to pay legal fees, NPR reports.

NPR also reports that an Israel-based pharmaceutical company, Teva, agreed in May to an $85 million settlement with Oklahoma for its role in fueling the opioid crisis.

Following Monday’s ruling, Johnson & Johnson announced that it plans to appeal the outcome, citing “flawed” judgement.

Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel for Johnson & Johnson, said in a written statement on Monday that, “Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” CNN reports.

Johnson & Johnson continues to battle cases against the company, totaling around 50,000. While not all of those cases are related to opioids, Forbes reports that if the pharmaceutical company were to settle all of the cases against them, it would cost the giant an amount of over $6 billion.

TCR writers Andrea Cipriano and Kate Pastor contributed to this summary.

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