An Oklahoma district judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $572 million in damages to help alleviate the state’s opioid epidemic, in a case where the state attorney general accused the company of being the “kingpin” of the crisis.
Attorney General Mike Hunter originally sought more than $17 billion for the state’s abatement plan, but District Judge Thad Balkman said he was constrained by legal limits around the “public nuisance” charge.
Industry observers have been watching the case for implications on how a massive nationwide opioid trial could play out in Ohio this fall.
In those cases, hundreds of states, localities, tribes and others are suing Purdue, Teva, Johnson & Johnson and other drugmakers, in addition to distributors including McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen Corp. and pharmacies like Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens. The cases are set to begin in October.
Hunter previously settled with Purdue Pharma for $270 million and Teva Pharmaceuticals for $85 million in the months leading up to the trial. Both companies agreed to clamp down on opioid promotion within Oklahoma, including halting the use of sales representatives and speaking engagements touting the painkiller. Neither company admitted wrongdoing.
Effects from the nation’s shift in attitude toward opioid makers are already apparent. In June, Purdue Pharma laid off its entire sales team while fellow opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics filed for bankruptcy. Insys had just settled with the U.S. Department of Justice for $225 million after admitting the company bribed doctors to prescribe its potent fentanyl painkiller, Subsys.
Allegations of unethical conduct from opioid manufacturers are not new. In 2007, Purdue admitted in a Justice Department settlement it marketed its flagship product, OxyContin, as less addictive than other opioids.