In a landmark ruling, Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court in Norman, Oklahoma has ordered pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in aggravating the opioid crisis in the state. This was the first lawsuit which went on a seven-week trial amongst several others filed against drug manufacturers and distributors for their role in aggravating the opioid crisis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 218,000 people have lost their lives due to prescription opioids from 1999 to 2017. In fact, deaths related to overdose from prescription opioids were five times higher in 2017 compared to 1999. Apart from the physical and mental complications, the crisis has led to severe financial burdens. According to Medicaid data collected from all the 50 states, the U.S. has cumulatively spent more than $72 billion from 1999 to 2013 on the opioid crisis.
The State of Oklahoma v. Johnson & Johnson
According to the state’s lawyers, Johnson & Johnson had carried publicity campaigns which minimized the risks of opioid painkillers and only highlighted their benefits. The campaigns, which lasted for a year, led to over-prescribing of the drugs, which in turn, fueled the opioid crisis. Nearly 6,000 people have already lost their lives in Oklahoma due to opioid overdoses in the last 19 years.
In his ruling, Judge Thadman said that the opioid crisis was an impending threat and a menace; and the defendant (Johnson & Johnson) added to “public nuisance” by falsely promoting highly addictive prescription opioid painkillers compromising the safety and health of thousands of Oklahomans.
The payment would be used for the care and treatment of people with opioid addiction and help in the state’s fight against the opioid epidemic.
Scientific evidence backed campaigns
Johnson & Johnson has denied any unlawful activity, claiming to have scientific evidence. It said the company’s painkiller, Nucynta and Duragesic, was just a minuscule portion of the total opioids prescribed in Oklahoma. They have provided verifications from healthcare providers and medical practitioners as well as present and former employees which support the company’s claim of appropriate and lawful marketing campaigns.
Sabrina Strong, the lawyer representing Johnson & Johnson, said that the company sympathizes with all those who suffered from substance abuse; but that it was not responsible for the opioid abuse in the state or any other part of the country. Stating that they will be appealing against the verdict, Strong said that the decision was against the law.
Reactions to the judgement
The case was closely monitored by the petitioners of the other opioid lawsuits which will go on trial later this year incase both the parties fail to reach an agreement.
Speaking after the judgement, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that Johnson & Johnson and Janssen (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) were guilty of downplaying the negative consequences of opioids and were responsible for false promotion of the drugs from as early as the 1990s. He said that finally it will be held liable for the numerous deaths and addictions caused by their activities.
Though the fine imposed by the court is less than what was expected, it is a step towards holding the painkiller manufacturers accountable for their actions. According to Jared Holz, healthcare strategist for the financial services company, Jefferies, $572 million is a small amount and the expected penalty should have closer to $2 billion.
The two other companies that were held responsible for the crisis, Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin and Teva Pharmaceuticals, had opted for an out-of-court settlement with the state before the trial started. However, neither of the companies admitted to any wrongdoing.
Treatment for opioid abuse
Addiction to opioids not only harms the individual and their family emotionally and physically, but also financially. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 2.1 million Americans 12 years and above suffered from an opioid use disorder. Fortunately, an addiction to opioids is treatable with a comprehensive drug addiction treatment program comprising a combination of a detoxification process and therapy and counselling sessions.
Treatment for drug detox treatment are available at various reputed and licensed treatment centers across the country. If you or a loved one is battling an opioid addiction and is looking for licensed drug treatment centers, get in touch with the Invictus Health Group. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-548-0190 and speak to a member of our admissions team. They will provide you with all the relevant information about drug rehabs. You can also chat online to a representative for further assistance.