With still thousands of cases pending against Big Pharma companies for their role in the opioid epidemic, a landmark ruling in Oklahoma is holding one company accountable.
A judge in Oklahoma, where the first lawsuit filed against opioid makers and distributors went to trial, has ruled that Johnson and Johnson must pay $572 million for its part in flooding the state with opioids.
The state of Oklahoma had previously settled with other drug manufacturers Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical earlier this year.
“Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans,” said Judge Thad Balkman in his ruling. “The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans.”
Balkman also noted that the payment will be used for the care and treatment of opioid addicts.
“Johnson & Johnson executives made the calculated and coldblooded decision that they were going to produce a mutant strain of poppy, corner the market and supply massive amounts of the active ingredients for other companies to manufacture opioids,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
Johnson & Johnson, through contracts with poppy growers in Tasmania, has supplied 60 percent of the ingredients that drug companies use in opioid painkillers. The opioid epidemic has resulted in the deaths of nearly 400,000 Americans during the last 20 years. Nearly 400 Oklahoma residents died as a result of opioid addiction in 2017 alone.
Thousands of lawsuits across the U.S. are still pending, with local governments attempting to hold companies accountable for flooding their communities with opioid pills and aggressively marking opioid painkillers as non-addictive and safe for long term use. The case in Oklahoma is the first to have gone to trial wheareas many others have been settled out of court.