UPDATE: An Oklahoma judge on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay over $572 million for pushing doctors to prescribe opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction, actions that state prosecutors said helped fuel the state's opioid epidemic and led to more than 6,000 deaths over nearly two decades.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter claimed in court that the sales push by Johnson & Johnson and its pharmaceutical subsidiary, Janssen, starting in the 1990s had created “a public nuisance” that led to the deaths.

J&J denied any wrongdoing, and its attorney, John Sparks, said state prosecutors had misinterpreted the public nuisance law, having previously limited it to disputes involving property or public spaces.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman disagreed, and said that Johnson & Johnson’s “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance" in the state.

“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma, it must be abated immediately,” Balkman said in court Monday. “For this reason, I’m entering an abatement plan that consists of costs totaling $572,102,028 to immediately remediate the nuisance.

J&J said it would appeal the ruling.

In Balkman's full written decision, he stated that the pharmaceutical company's sales program was designed to reach doctors multiple times throughout their careers. J&J pushed an "education" program through sales representatives, funded articles in medical journals and paid speakers.

None of these programs properly addressed the risks of addiction and there was no training provided to sales representatives on the history of opioid use or addiction, according to the court's ruling.

"The Defendants’ opioid marketing, in its multitude of forms, was false, deceptive and misleading," according to the written decision.

The case was seen as a litmus test for nearly 2,000 pending opioid cases before a federal judge in Ohio, especially as other pharmaceutical companies faced with similar accusations have chosen to settle.

Purdue Pharma, the privately held maker of OxyContin that has faced the brunt of the blame for the nationwide opioid epidemic, reached a $270 million settlement with the Oklahoma attorney general’s office in March. Oklahoma also settled with Teva Pharmaceutical for $85 million, just days before it went to trial against the Israeli opioid manufacturer in Cleveland County. Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

Hunter pushed the judge to force J&J to pay the state $17 billion, which would be put toward addiction treatment and prevention programs over the next 30 years.

During the trial, Hunter claimed that J&J and other pharmaceutical companies rushed to produce a “magic pill” in their pursuit of profits, while ignoring decades of scientific research that showed the dangers of opioids. The judge heard testimony from victims of the crisis, including a father of a college football player who died of a drug overdose.

They “embarked on a cynical, deceitful, multibillion-dollar brainwashing campaign to establish opioid analgesics as the magic drug,” Hunter told the court. “Money may not be the root of all evil but ... money can make people and businesses do bad things. Very bad things.”


ORIGINAL STORY: An Oklahoma judge is expected to issue what will be a landmark ruling Monday on whether Johnson & Johnson will be held responsible for the state’s opioid epidemic that officials say led to more than 6,000 deaths over nearly two decades.

The Oklahoma attorney general claims J&J and its pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen aggressively marketed to doctors and downplayed the risks of opioids beginning in the 1990s. The company’s sales practices created an oversupply of the addictive painkillers and “a public nuisance” that upended lives and will cost the state $12.7 billion to $17.5 billion, the state says.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is urging Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman to force J&J to pay more than $17 billion in the first civil trial in the U.S. seeking to hold a drugmaker accountable for helping fuel the epidemic. The $17 billion — to be used as part of an abatement plan over 30 years — would provide funds for addiction treatment and prevention programs in the state, officials say.

J&J has denied any wrongdoing, and there’s always a chance it could settle the case out of court before the judge delivers his decision.

The company, which marketed the opioid painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta, says its products were highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, among other agencies, and that the state has not provided any evidence showing the company’s sales practices helped fuel the crisis.

J&J was the only defendant in the seven-week trial, which was streamed live and began on May 28. Purdue Pharma, the privately held maker of OxyContin that has faced the brunt of the blame for the nationwide opioid epidemic, reached a $270 million settlement with the Oklahoma attorney general’s office in March. Oklahoma also resolved its claims against Teva Pharmaceutical for $85 million just days before the trial in Cleveland County. Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

Johnson & Johnson attorney John Sparks disputed the legal basis Oklahoma is using to sue J&J, relying on a “public nuisance” claim. Sparks said the state has previously limited the act to disputes involving property or public spaces.

“The state ignores this well-established law and now argues that public nuisance allows them to compel any party allegedly contributing in any measure to a social problem to fund all programs that state administrators dream up to address it. This is not and should not be the law,” he said in a statement.
A ruling against J&J on Monday could mean more big payouts in similar cases across the country.

The Oklahoma trial has been seen by legal analysts as a litmus test for plaintiffs of some 1,900 pending cases against Purdue Pharma, J&J and other opioid manufacturers that were consolidated and transferred to a federal judge in the Northern District of Ohio. Legal scholars have compared the massive opioid litigation to the tobacco master settlement agreement in the 1990s, when the nation’s four largest tobacco companies reached a group settlement with 46 state attorneys general.

Excluding a settlement in the opioid case — drugmakers Endo International and Allergan agreed to pay a combined $15 million to avoid going to trial — the consolidated lawsuit is set to begin trial in October.

During arguments in Oklahoma, Hunter said J&J and others rushed to produce a “magic pill” in their pursuit of profits, while ignoring decades of scientific research that showed the dangers of opioids. Balkman heard testimony from victims of the crisis, including a father of a college football player who died of a drug overdose.

They “embarked on a cynical, deceitful, multibillion-dollar brainwashing campaign to establish opioid analgesics as the magic drug,” Hunter told the court. “Money may not be the root of all evil but ... money can make people and businesses do bad things. Very bad things.”

J&J said in court that its marketing and promotion of pain medications were “appropriate and responsible.” The company provided testimony from doctors and current and former employees who said the company’s marketing practices were appropriate.