- An Oklahoma judge on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million after finding the pharmaceutical giant's marketing of prescription opioid painkillers in the state helped contribute to an ongoing crisis of addiction and overdoses.
- "The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately," said state court judge Thad Balkman in announcing his verdict, according to video posted by CNBC.
- J&J said it will appeal the ruling and denied that it worsened the opioid crisis in Oklahoma. The $572 million in damages ordered by Balkman were substantially less than the $17 billion sought by the state and the several billions of dollars expected by investors on Wall Street. Shares in J&J, as well as several other opioid drugmakers, rose in post-market trading Monday.
The $572 million Balkman ordered J&J pay, while lower than expected, is still significantly more than the $270 million and $85 million paid by Purdue and Teva, respectively.
All three were accused of fueling an opioid crisis in the state through false and deceptive marketing of their prescription products. Neither Purdue nor Teva admitted wrongdoing in their settlements.
"Today, Judge Balkman has affirmed our position that Johnson & Johnson, motivated by greed and avarice, is responsible for the opioid epidemic in our state," said Oklahoma state attorney general Mike Hunter in comments following the ruling.
"J&J will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addiction caused by their activity."
The American Hospital Association is calling for some of the funds to be directed toward the hospitals that are dealing with the opioid crisis head on.
"We ask the judge to ensure that needed funds are directed to the hospitals and health systems that are on the forefront of caring for the victims of this epidemic," AHA said in a joint statement with the Oklahoma Hospital Association.
Though the judge's ruling details how he wants the funds to be dispersed it's unclear how much of the money would go directly to hospitals. Hospitals would likely get a piece of the funding as the judge has called for certain programs or services to be implemented.
For example, treatment for substance use disorder is the central feature of the state's abatement plan, as such, nearly $233 million was earmarked for Oklahomans that need treatment and part of that includes hospitalization and outpatient services.
The ruling also calls for comprehensive screening particularly in primary care and emergency room settings. Birthing hospitals would also receive funding to help them document when babies are born with opioid withdrawal syndrome.
More than 4,600 Oklahomans died as a result of unintentional overdoses involving prescription opioids in the decade from 2007 to 2017, Hunter previously said in court.
The state argued J&J used pseudoscience and misleading information about the risk of opioids to spur greater prescribing of the drugs.
Balkman agreed with the state's claims, ruling that J&J "embarked on a major campaign" to push messaging that pain wasn't being appropriately treated and that opioids presented low risk of abuse.
In particular, Balkman found J&J used the concept of "pseudoaddiction" to convince physicians that patients seemingly becoming addicted were in fact undertreated for their pain.
J&J criticized the ruling, calling it "flawed" in a statement declaring the company's intention to appeal.
"Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome," said Michael Ullmann, J&J's general counsel. Janssen is a subsidiary of J&J and its principal drugs unit.
J&J's role in the opioid market involves two opioids it sold, Duragesic (fentanyl) and Nucynta (tapentadol), as well as active pharmaceutical ingredients it supplied through subsidiaries Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids.
The company sold off marketing rights to Nucynta in 2015 and no longer markets Duragesic, although it still makes the drug.
According to J&J, the drugs accounted for less than 1% of all opioid prescriptions in both Oklahoma as well as the U.S.
The $572 million J&J is ordered to pay will go toward funding one year of an abatement plan that features addiction treatment services, disposal programs and non-opioid pain management therapies.
Despite its size, J&J played a smaller role in the opioid market. Data cited by the Washington Post show Endo Pharmaceuticals, Teva and Mallinckrodt to have accounted for the majority of the 76 billion opioid pills sold in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012.
Endo recently reached a $10 million settlement with two counties in Ohio which are part of a sweeping multi-district litigation proceeding in that state. A federal trial there is scheduled to begin in late October and will be the next legal battleground over how much drugmakers should be held liable for opioid addiction and overdoses.