An Oklahoma judge on Monday ruled against Johnson & Johnson in the first trial of an opioid manufacturer, ordering the company to pay the state $572 million for its role in the nationwide epidemic.
“The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,” said Judge Thad Balkman in Cleveland County District Court, CNBC reports. “The state meant its burden that the defendants Janssen and Johnson & Johnson’s misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance as defined by [the law], including a finding that those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans.”
Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the decision. The company was the only remaining defendant in the case, which began on May 28th. Teva Pharmaceutical and Purdue Pharma, the widely criticized maker of OxyContin — both of whom denied wrongdoing — reached settlements with the state before the trial (Teva for $85 million, Purdue for $270 million).
The state argued that, dating back to the 1990s, Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen aggressively marketed its opioids to doctors while downplaying the associated risks. According to the New York Times, Johnson & Johnson imported 60 percent of the opiate materials that were used to manufacture opioids in the U.S., while Janssen made an opioid pill and a fentanyl patch. “Defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Balkman ruled.
Throughout the seven-week trial, Oklahoma’s attorneys characterized Johnson & Johnson as the “kingpin” of the opioid epidemic, creating an abundance of addictive painkillers and causing a “public nuisance” that could cost the state upwards of $17.8 billion, Politico reports.
While the legal fallout remains to be seen, the Oklahoma ruling could set a precedent for future cases, including more than 2,000 similar lawsuits already filed across the county.