Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572 Million in Landmark Opioid Trial


A choose in Oklahoma on Monday dominated that Johnson & Johnson had deliberately performed down the hazards and oversold the advantages of opioids, and ordered it to pay the state $572 million in the primary trial of a drug producer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers.

The quantity fell far wanting the $17 billion judgment that Oklahoma had sought to pay for dependancy remedy, drug courts and different companies it stated it could want over the subsequent 20 years to restore the injury performed by the opioid epidemic.

Judge Balkman was harsh in his assessment of a company that has built its reputation as a responsible and family-friendly maker of soap, baby powder and Band-Aids.

In his ruling, he wrote that Johnson & Johnson had promulgated “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns” that had “caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths” and babies born exposed to opioids.

Sabrina Strong, a lawyer for Johnson & Johnson, one the world’s biggest health care companies, said, “We have many strong grounds for appeal and we intend to pursue those vigorously.”

Johnson & Johnson, which contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used for opioids like oxycodone, the state argued, and aggressively marketed opioids to doctors and patients as safe and effective. A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, made its own opioids — a pill whose rights it sold in 2015, and a fentanyl patch that it still produces.

Judge Balkman said the $572 million judgment could pay for a year’s worth of services needed to combat the epidemic in Oklahoma.

In a statement about the Oklahoma case, Michael Ullmann, the general counsel and executive vice president of Johnson & Johnson, referring to the company’s pharmaceutical subsidiary, said that “Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome.

“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue,” he said, “and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected.”

The state’s case was argued by private lawyers whose sense of urgency was driven by personal tragedy — among them, they had seen a son, a business partner and friends succumb to opioids.

Reading a summary of his decision in court in Norman, Okla., Judge Balkman said Johnson & Johnson had an outsize impact on the state’s epidemic, though its share of opioid sales was scarcely 1 percent of the market.

“The critical finding is that Johnson & Johnson engaged in false, deceptive and misleading marketing,” said Abbe R. Gluck, who teaches health policy and law at Yale Law School.

From 2000 through 2011, members of Johnson & Johnson’s sales staff made some 150,000 visits to Oklahoma doctors, focusing in particular on high-volume prescribers, the state said. In addition, the pharmaceutical giant supplied most of the nation’s opioid material to other drug manufacturers, refined by one of its companies from a variety of poppy that Johnson & Johnson developed and grew in Tasmania.

Johnson & Johnson, represented by Larry D. Ottaway, an Oklahoma lawyer, argued its case with an eye toward appellate courts. Indeed whether Judge Balkman’s verdict will survive scrutiny is uncertain: State and possibly federal appeals judges may take a skeptical view of the state’s legal theory and the extent of the company’s liability.

During the trial, Johnson & Johnson said blame for the epidemic could not fairly be placed on one company with such modest sales, whose drugs were approved and strictly regulated by state and federal agencies.

Johnson & Johnson said that the state could not show how Oklahoma’s problems, which the company said arose from the diversion of hydrocodone and oxycodone, could be linked to Janssen, which did not make those drugs. It cited black-box warnings on Duragesic, its fentanyl patch, which cautioned about the potential for abuse and addiction. And it said the state had not identified any doctor who had been misled by the company about the dangers of opioids.

But Judge Balkman wrote that he was persuaded by the state’s legal theory. The judge found that Johnson & Johnson perpetuated a “public nuisance,” substantially contributing to an ongoing public health crisis that could take decades to abate.

Public nuisance laws are usually applied in cases where something interferes with a right common to the general public, traditionally roads, waterways or other public areas. Recently, plaintiffs have used the laws to press claims involving lead paint, guns or water or air pollution, with mixed results. Oklahoma’s public nuisance statute is relatively broad, and the state argued that Johnson & Johnson substantially interfered with public health.

Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers contended that the state was contorting public nuisance law to the point of being unrecognizable.

Lawyers representing more than 2,000 cities, counties and other jurisdictions with opioid cases pending in federal court were cheered by Judge Balkman’s ruling. In a statement, they said: “While public nuisance laws differ in every state, this decision is a critical step forward.”

Judge Balkman’s ruling comes only two months before the first federal opioid trial is to begin in Cleveland, brought by two Ohio counties against an array of manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies.

But the nearly two-month Oklahoma trial, which began on May 28, was also singular in some ways. Judge Balkman, an elected jurist and former state legislator, presided over the case. By contrast, much of the forthcoming Ohio trial, which includes other claims, will be heard by a jury.

Also, the pending federal case in Ohio involves numerous defendants, while Oklahoma made its case in court against just Johnson & Johnson.

The level of proof required by the state to back up its allegation that Johnson & Johnson was the “kingpin” of the opioid epidemic required that it demonstrate that the company was responsible for most of the opioid-related damage — from criminal justice to health care, foster care and treatment facilities.

The state said that the company aggressively promoted the safety of opioids generally, through campaigns tailored for women, teenagers and veterans. It said the company engaged with “front groups” of pain patients and pain medicine specialists, who insisted the drugs were effective for quotidian pain and minimized the risk of addiction.

“Judge Balkman has affirmed our position that Johnson & Johnson maliciously and diabolically created the opioid epidemic in our state,” Mr. Hunter said.

Katie Thomas contributed reporting.



Source link Nytimes.com

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