Following a court case against Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma, a judge has ruled in favour of the state, finding that the company played a part in the opioid addiction crisis in the region. The drug maker has been ordered to pay $572 million in damages.
The state of Oklahoma originally asked for $17 billion, claiming that the company was responsible for fuelling the opioid crisis with its misleading marketing campaigns. The judge agreed that the campaigns met the law’s definition of “creating a public nuisance”.
The state also argued that Johnson & Johnson frequently downplayed the risks of addiction in its campaigns. Additionally, it accused the firm of identifying doctors knowing that they were likely to prescribe large doses of the drug to it target customers, and that they would become addicted.
The opioid crisis is an ongoing cause for concern in the US. In 2017, it was estimated that over 49,000 people died due to opioid abuse or addiction. And despite there being evidence that the number of deaths is falling overall, many areas are still facing an epidemic.
There have been alarming trends in mortality rates in the states most affected. For example, in the worst affected areas, like West Virginia and New Hampshire, life expectancy has fallen by around a year. The average reduction was 0.36 years.
The state wanted enough money to cover 30 years of work combatting the addiction crisis. However, the judge, Thad Balkman, ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence against Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary company, Janssen, to impose the full amount.
The judge wrote: “Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome.”
He added that the fact it only had to pay $572 million should be seen as a victory. The value of stocks in Johnson & Johnson increased after the decision. The company, however, still described the ruling as “flawed” and said it would appeal the decision.
Johnson & Johnson general counsel Michael Ullmann said in a statement: “Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome. “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.”