Published On: Tue, Aug 27th, 2019

US opioid trial: State wins landmark case against drugmaker Johnson & Johnson | World | News

The judge said the Johnson & Johnson intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids. Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court in Norman, Oklahoma, said prosecutors had demonstrated that J&J contributed to a “public nuisance” in its deceptive promotion of highly addictive prescription painkillers. He said: ”Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans.

“The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans.”

The Oklahoma case was brought by the state’s Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Mr Hunter said: “Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their actions.”

The payment would be used for the care and treatment of opioid addicts, he said.

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson (Image: GETTY)

Hypodermic needles

Hypodermic needles (Image: GETTY)

Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2000, some 6,000 people in Oklahoma have died from opioid overdoses, according to the state’s lawyers.The company said immediately after the judgement that it would appeal.

The case was the first to go to trial out of thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid makers and distributors.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma settled with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma for $270m and Teva Pharmaceutical for $85m, leaving J&J as the lone defendant.

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Fentanyl hypodermic needles

Fentanyl hypodermic needles (Image: GETTY)

The outcome of the case is being closely watched by plaintiffs in about 2,000 opioid lawsuits due to go to trial in Ohio in October unless the parties can reach a settlement.

During Oklahoma’s seven-week non-jury trial, lawyers for the state argued that Johnson & Johnson carried out a years-long marketing campaign that minimised the addictive painkillers’ risks and promoted their benefits.

The state’s lawyers had called Johnson & Johnson an opioid “kingpin” and argued that its marketing efforts created a public nuisance as doctors over-prescribed the drugs, leading to a surge in overdose deaths in Oklahoma.

Johnson & Johnson vigorously denied wrongdoing, arguing that its marketing claims had scientific support and that its painkillers, Duragesic and Nucynta, made up a tiny fraction of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma.


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Fentanyl is causing many deaths

Fentanyl is causing many deaths (Image: GETTY)

The company’s share price rose following the ruling as investors had been expecting a much bigger fine, says BBC North America correspondent Peter Bowes.

The state’s case rested on a “radical” interpretation of the state’s public nuisance law, Johnson & Johnson said.

The company said in a statement that since 2008, its painkillers had accounted for less than 1% of the US market, including generics.

“The decision in this case is flawed. The State failed to present evidence that the company’s products or actions caused a public nuisance in Oklahoma.

Wayne Starks, a former drug addict who has been clean for 17 years, holds up a naloxone (NARCAN) overdose kit

Wayne Starks, a former drug addict who has been clean for 17 years, holds up a naloxone (NARCAN) overdose kit (Image: GETTY)

“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states,” it added.

The state argues that Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance which will cost between $12.7bn (£10.02bn) and $17.5bn (£13.8bn) to remedy over the next 20 to 30 years.

But the company argues that the public nuisance law does not apply in this instance.

Johnson & Johnson, probably best known for its baby shampoo and baby powder, produces a fentanyl patch which can be prescribed for severe pain.

Fentanyl belongs to a class of drugs known as opioid analgesics, which change how the body feels and responds to pain.

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