WASHINGTON, DC - For the first time in U.S. history, a judge is blaming a pharmaceutical company for its part in the nation’s opioid crisis. On Monday, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million after a 7-week trial.
“I think it sends a message to the pharmaceutical companies that judges won’t shy away and juries certainly won’t shy away from holding them accountable for the role they play in the epidemic,” said Regina LaBelle, Program Director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at Georgetown University Law Center.
The judge’s ruling says the company willfully downplayed the dangers of opioids. It came as a result of the state successfully persuading the judge the drug manufacturer caused a public nuisance.
LaBelle says it’s a good sign for states like Kentucky. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, in 2017, there were 1,160 reported opioid-involved deaths in the state.
Attorney General Andy Beshear has filed a lawsuit against nine opioid pharmaceutical and/or distributors across the nation. However, the case in Oklahoma is the first one to reach trial.
A federal trial in Ohio, that rolls nearly 2,000 cases into one, is set for this fall.
“This case doesn’t have precedent for their cases but I think they will be encouraged by the signal that it sends,” said LaBelle.
Oklahoma lawyers say they’ve proved Johnson & Johnson was at the root cause of the opioid crisis in their state, but the corporation plans to appeal.
"It's important to understand that these medications that the company manufactured are for people who suffer from chronic debilitating pain. And the way in which the company manufactured these medications and marketed them to doctors was extremely responsible. There are warnings on these medications, FDA approved warnings, and it's up to the doctor with their patients to make decisions about who is appropriate for these medications, " Johnson & Johnson Attorney, Sabrina Strong, said.
Time will tell if other pharmaceutical giants will change their marketing strategy when selling opioids as a result of Monday’s ruling.