Following a six week trial in Oklahoma, a judge has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to compensate the state for damages caused by the opioid crisis, and creating a public nuisance by widely distributing the powerful and highly addictive pain medications without regard for the safe use of their product.
The decision was handed down on Monday by Judge Thad Balkman. If the verdict is upheld, the funds would be go toward an opioid abatement plan, which state officials indicate could actually cost more than $17 billion.
While the ruling is significant, it is far lower than some analysts expected and Johnson & Johnson still says it will appeal the decision. However, the $572 million verdict is still much higher than the opioid settlement agreements reached by Purdue and Teva Pharmaceuticals, who agreed to pay the state $270 million and $85 million, respectively, for their roles in creating the opioid crisis.
Some analysts had predicted the verdict could be in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
Hundreds of similar opioid abuse lawsuits are currently pending nationwide, involving claims brought by a number of states and municipalities, which blame drug manufacturers for creating the nationwide opioid crisis.
The opioid crisis claims more and more lives each year, due to accidental and intentional overdoses associated with the powerful and addictive pain medications. Americans are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a car crash.
A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published late last year indicated opioids accounted for nearly 70% of all drug overdose deaths.
Oklahoma and other states have accused Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and other drug manufacturers of deceptively marketing opioids.
While this trial was held at the state level, there are currently more than 2,000 opioid addiction lawsuits filed in the federal court system, each seeking damages from various manufacturers and distributors of the powerful narcotic medications over addiction and abuse problems that have plagued the nation in the recent years.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the claims, the U.S. JPML established centralized proceedings for the opioid cases last year, consolidating the claims before U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.