Judge Rules Johnson & Johnson Must Pay $572 Million for Helping Fuel Opioid Crisis in Oklahoma

Medicare News
  • Connecticut’s lawsuit against Stamford-based drug maker Purdue Pharma contains allegations of deceptive marketing also found in the the Johnson & Johnson lawsuit in Oklahoma.
  • – Shares of major drugmakers Teva Pharmaceutical, Endo International and Mallinckrodt all surged in after-hours trading following a smaller-than-expected fine for Johnson & Johnson.
  • – Shares of J&J jumped more than 5% on the news, resulting in a $13.5 billion market cap gain after hours.
  • – An Oklahoma judge ordered J&J to pay the state $572 million — significantly less than the $17 billion in penalties sought in the trial. This was the first U.S. case attempting to hold a drug-maker accountable for fueling the opioid epidemic.

In a milestone opioid verdict with ramifications in Connecticut, a county judge in Oklahoma has found Johnson & Johnson must pay a $572 million judgment to help curtail an opioid-addiction menace it helped to cultivate across the Sooner State. Connecticut’s lawsuit against Stamford-based drug maker Purdue Pharma contains similar allegations of deceptive marketing and ignoring the consequences of a drug that has fueled an opioid epidemic here. Connecticut consistently has one of the highest per capita overdose death rates in the country. The company makes OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma spokeswoman Josephine Martin said late Monday afternoon the company would have no comment on the Oklahoma ruling. “We continue to aggressively pursue our own case against Purdue Pharma and defendant members of the Sackler family,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, referring to the owners of the Stamford pharmaceutical company.

In March, Oklahoma settled with Purdue Pharma for $270 million — funds that will be funneled toward treatment and a research center at Oklahoma State University. The federal government is seeking a portion of the money, the Washington Post reported Monday. To find Johnson & Johnson responsible for money damages, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman ruled the company had become a “public nuisance” in hundreds of Oklahoma communities, pushing doctors to prescribe opioids for even minor pain, contributing to scores of deaths and driving up health care costs.

Balkman said “the opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma and must be abated immediately.” More than 40 states are pursuing similar claims against the pharmaceutical industry.

In May, two days before the trial began, Oklahoma settled with Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli-based manufacturer of generic drugs, for $85 million. Johnson & Johnson denied any wrongdoing and gambled on a trial – seven weeks of testimony before Judge Balkman, with no jury.

“At the root of this crisis was Johnson & Johnson, a company that literally created the poppy that became the source of the opioid crisis,” the state charged.

Johnson & Johnson argued that it could not be held liable for supplying legal products and ingredients, which were highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and state authorities themselves. The company also denied misleading doctors. Connecticut’s lawsuit alleges Purdue Pharma plied high-prescribing doctors with meals, gifts and money, and used the term “pseudoaddiction” to suggest that addicted patients were being given inadequate doses and just needed more, according to a lawsuit filed in 2018 by then-State Attorney General George Jepsen.

Tong, Jepsen’s successor, has continued to pursue the lawsuit, filing an updated case against Purdue Pharma. The complaint revealed previously undisclosed emails from founder Richard Sacker that show a “callous disregard” for those addicted to the company’s product. “Abusers die, well that is the choice they made, I doubt a single one didn’t know of the risks.” Richard Sackler says to an acquaintance in a 2001 email, according to the complaint. “Abusers aren’t victims; they are the victimizers.”

Oklahoma officials said Johnson & Johnson was motivated by money — an allegation at the center of Connecticut’s lawsuit. “Purdue knowingly put its own exorbitant profits first when it … misled doctors by not just downplaying the terrible risks of addiction, but by forcefully asserting that opioid products were safe, that the risk of addiction was low, and that patients experiencing symptoms of addiction should actually be prescribed higher and greater doses of Purdue’s opioid drugs,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint goes on to say when Purdue Pharma “developed OxyContin, it saw an opportunity to reap huge profits. With scientific precision it designed, financed and waged a campaign, both pervasive and targeted, to mislead doctors and patients into believing that the new drugs were now safe to treat even minor pain. In truth, Purdue’s opioids remain so potent that they inevitably overcome the will of many users, leading to addiction, overdose and death. Purdue has denied it has engaged in false marketing practices or misled doctors.


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