The verdict issued by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman marks the end of the first state trial attempting to hold a pharmaceutical company accountable for one of the worst health epidemics in history. In his ruling, Balkman said the opioid crisis has “ravaged” the state of Oklahoma.
Following the ruling, Johnson & Johnson announced that it plans to appeal the “flawed” judgment.
“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need,” he said. “This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states.”
Oklahoma is one of dozens of states suing opioid drugmakers and this case is the first state case to reach trial. A federal trial is slated for this fall in which nearly 2,000 cases involving cities, counties, communities and tribal lands have been rolled into one, accusing opioid makers of causing the epidemic.
Oklahoma battles Johnson & Johnson
Ahead of Monday’s verdict, Oklahoma and Johnson & Johnson filed their final pleas to Balkman earlier this month, essentially making one final pitch following seven weeks of trial.
In its final filing, the state of Oklahoma implored the judge to deliver a record $17.2 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson for flooding the state with opioids. It said the drug company created a crisis that killed more than 6,000 Oklahomans, destroyed families and wreaked havoc on communities.
The state had presented an abatement plan of about $17.5 billion at trial, but in its filings, the state reduced the figure to $17.17 billion to account for $355 million the state received in settlements with Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals.
“The source of this crisis is the flood of prescription opioids that has inundated Oklahoma for the past two decades,” attorneys for the state wrote in its more than 700-page court filing. “The harm it has wrought, and the threat it continues to pose to the health, safety and welfare of the State, make it the worst nuisance Oklahoma has ever known.”
The state essentially argued that Johnson & Johnson was a “public nuisance.”
Johnson & Johnson argued in its filing that the state’s case was flimsy, saying that the public nuisance accusation is based on “radical theories unmoored from more than a century of Oklahoma case law.”
“In addition to those fundamental legal defects, the State undeniably failed to prove its case,” Johnson & Johnson said in its nearly 200-page filing.
The drug company blasted the state’s witnesses and argued that the state offered no explanation how its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, contributed to the opioid crisis.
“In sum, the State failed to prove that Janssen misleadingly promoted opioids, that any of Janssen’s promotions caused any harm in Oklahoma (let alone a crisis of opioid abuse), or that its proposed remedy was a prudent and justified response to the present crisis,” Johnson & Johnson said.
In its filing, Johnson & Johnson maintained it did nothing wrong and said the state took “potshots at stray promotional statements plucked from three decades” of material to create a wild public nuisance theory.
America’s opioid epidemic
As Oklahoma’s trial ran through the summer, so did America’s opioid epidemic.
With the trial now over, eyes are turning from Oklahoma to other states seeking justice for the opioid crises ravaging their communities.