Judge Rules In State’s Favor Against Johnson & Johnson In Historic Opioid Trial
Johnson & Johnson has been found in violation of the state's "public nuisance" law, according to the judge's findings.
Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman ruled in favor of the state's case against the pharmaceutical company. This was the first case to go to trial between a state and a drug company in relation to the opioid drug crisis.
Balkman said he was entering a one year abatement plan totaling to the sum of $572,102,028 against Johnson & Johnson to immediately abate the nuisance caused in their part of Oklahoma's opioid crisis.
"Today, Judge Balkman has affirmed our position that Johnson & Johnson, motivated by greed and avarice, is responsible for the opioid epidemic in the state," Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a news conference after the ruling was announced.
The historic opioid trial lasted for seven weeks in Norman, Oklahoma.
The state argued Johnson & Johnson and its pharmaceutical company Janssen were the "kingpin" of the opioid addiction crisis and is financially responsible for the fixing the crisis in the state.
"What we showed in our seven-week trial and what Judge Balkman confirmed today is what we know now for certain; Johnson & Johnson was the kingpin behind the nation's ongoing opioid crisis," Hunter said.
The state asked the court to have Johnson & Johnson pay more than $17.5 billion in a 30-year plan for addiction treatment, education and overdose prevention programs. The state said 6,100 Oklahomans died from prescription-drug overdoses between 2000 and 2017.
According to the judge's filing, Balkman ruled the state did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary beyond year one to abate the opioid crisis.
"It's going to be an important step forward in dealing with the epidemic. Certainly, we would have loved to have walked out of here with $17.5 billion, but realistically, we have been able to put together almost $1 billion to help Oklahoma work its way through," Hunter said when asked about the abatement amount.
Johnson & Johnson argued it did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma and their medication made up less than 1% of opioids on the market.
"Today's decision reflects a radical departure from more than a century of case law in this state. For over 100 years, public nuisance law has been limited to property disputes where one misuses their property and causes harm to another. That is not what this case is about. No Oklahoma court has ever done what this court has done today in applying public nuisance law to any commercial activity let alone the highly regulated area of prescription medicines," Johnson & Johnson attorney Sabrina Strong said.
The drug company argued most of the opioid crisis was caused by illicit drugs being trafficked from Mexico and other places.
Two drug makers, Purdue Pharma and Teva, have settled with the state, but both have denied any wrongdoing.
"We persevered. We did so because we knew that in the end we were going to be on the right side of history. We will look back on this dark period and know that we stood up for Oklahomans to take on Goliath. It has not been easy but it has been well worth it," Hunter said.
Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson said they planned to file an appeal.
"We do not believe that the facts or the law supports this decision today. We have many strong grounds for appeal, and we intend to pursue those vigorously," Strong said. "We have sympathy for all who suffer from substance abuse, but Johnson & Johnson did not cause the opioid abuse crisis here in Oklahoma or anywhere in this country."
University of Oklahoma interim President Joseph Harroz Jr. released the following statement after the ruling was announced:
“Today’s verdict will provide relief to the State of Oklahoma in its efforts to address the needs of thousands of citizens who suffer from opioid addiction and other devastating addictive behavior. The University of Oklahoma’s goal is to lend our comprehensive medical education system and extensive public and private research initiatives to systematically address addiction – from tobacco and opioids to obesity – as a disease and deliver groundbreaking research developments in our state’s clinical and treatment environments. The OU Health Sciences Center trains approximately 80% of the state’s health care workforce of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and other health professionals, all of whom play a critical role in addiction diagnosis and treatment in our communities across the state.”