Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay more than half a billion dollars in a landmark judgment for its part in fueling the opioid epidemic, which led to deaths of tens of thousands of people in a year in the United States.
An Oklahoma judge ordered the payment of $572m (£468m) in a case that was closely watched to see if a court would hold the drug maker accountable for its contribution to the American crisis. This marks the first major blow for the pharmaceutical industry on the opioid issue, as it faces several other lawsuits across the country from states and municipalities distressed by the impact of the potent drugs.
In his momentous ruling, Judge Thad Balkman stated that the state of Oklahoma had met its burden of proof in accusing Johnson & Johnson, via its subsidiary Janssen, of creating a public nuisance by spreading misinformation about its painkillers.
Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter alleged in the state’s lawsuit that the companies had used deceptive and aggressive marketing campaigns to push the addictive drugs and their use across the country.
Mr. Balkman said, “Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome”. He described the opioid crisis as an “imminent danger and menace”.
Johnson & Johnson has indicated its intention of appealing the decision, which is considerably less than the penalties originally sought by the state of Oklahoma. Following the verdict, the difference sent the company’s stock soaring by more than 5 % in post-market trading.
The stock prices of other pharmaceutical companies like Mallinckrodt, Teva Pharmaceutical, and Endo International also rose in after-hours trading following the news.
The lawsuit originally commenced with three defendants- Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical, and Purdue Pharma, the privately-owned maker of Oxycontin that has been extensively blamed for the crisis. The latter two companies reached settlements with the state even before the seven-week trial began.