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A ruling in Oklahoma that Johnson & Johnson’s marketing efforts created a public nuisance may establish a precedent of other jurisdictions.
In the first state case to be decided by a trial, a judge in Cleveland County District Court in Oklahoma ordered Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries to pay $572 million for its role in the state’s opioid crisis, potentially shaping thousands of pending legal actions by state and local authorities against drug companies.
Prosecutors for the state argued that the decades-long marketing efforts of Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries created a public nuisance and asked for a $17-billion judgement.
Citing the opioid crisis as an “imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,” Judge Thad Balkman ruled that the state met its burden to demonstrate that Janssen and Johnson & Johnson’s “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance” and awarded an abatement plan of $572 million to “immediately remediate the nuisance.” The judge ruled that the state proved the case for the first year and awarded and abatement plan accordingly.
In an Aug. 26, 2019 statement, Johnson & Johnson argued that the state failed to present evidence that the company’s products caused a public nuisance in Oklahoma and the judgment was a misapplication of the law. The company said it would ask for a stay of the decision, pending an appeal.
“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states,” said Michael Ullmann, executive vice president, general counsel, Johnson & Johnson in the press statement. “The unprecedented award for the State’s ‘abatement plan’ has sweeping ramifications for many industries and bears no relation to the Company’s medicines or conduct.”
In the statement, company further noted that the judgment disregarded the company’s compliance with federal and state laws, the company’s responsible marketing practices and that its opioid products accounted for less than 1% of total opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma and the United States.
“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” said Ullmann in the statement. “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.”
Previously, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals agreed to settlements with Oklahoma for $270 million and $85 million, respectively.