In the state of Oklahoma, Johnson & Johnson has been found guilty for pushing doctors to prescribe opioids to patients while downplaying the risks of addiction. For fueling the pain-killer epidemic, the corporation has been ordered to pay over $572 million.
According to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, the sales push by Johnson & Johnson and its pharmaceutical subsidiary, Janssen, began in the 1990’s. In the decades since, it has created “a public nuisance” that has led to more than 6,000 deaths in just two decades.
Though J&J denied any wrongdoings, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman disagreed. He said that Johnson & Johnson’s “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance” in the state of Oklahoma.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma, it must be abated immediately,” Balkman added. For this reason, I’m entering an abatement plan that consists of costs totaling $572,102,028 to immediately remediate the nuisance.”
NBC News reports that Michael Ullmann, the company’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement that J&J did not create the opioid crisis and will appeal the decision.
“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states,” Ullman said. “The unprecedented award for the State’s ‘abatement plan’ has sweeping ramifications for many industries and bears no relation to the Company’s medicines or conduct.”
In Judge Balkman’s full written decision, he stated that J&J’s sales program was designed to reach doctors multiple times throughout their careers. The pharmaceutical company pushed an “education” program though sales representatives, paid speakers, and funded articles in medical journals.
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Balkmann stated that none of the programs properly addressed the risks of addiction. Furthermore, none of the sales representatives received training on the history of opioid use or addiction. “The Defendants’ opioid marketing, in its multitude of forms, was false, deceptive and misleading,” says the written decision.
After the ruling, Hunter said that his team of prosecutors proved J&J “built its billion-dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of pain and suffering of innocent people.”
“Throughout the trial our team proved what we have alleged all along, that the company used pseudoscience and misleading information that downplayed the risks of opioids leading to the worst man-made public nuisance this state and our county has ever seen: the opioid crisis,” he said.
The development suggests that someday soon, other pharmaceutical companies (such as Purdue Pharma which manufactures OxyContin) will be held responsible for fueling the opioid crisis and unnecessarily taking thousands of lives. Currently, there are 2,000 opioid cases waiting to be reviewed by a federal judge in Ohio.
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h/t NBC News