Oklahoma settles opioid lawsuit

Johnson & Johnson to pay out $572 million in opioid-related death settlement

Oklahoma’s Cleveland County Court ordered pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to pay out $572 million last Monday in a settlement for an opioid-related death lawsuit.

This is the first successful legal action to prosecute a drug manufacturing company for inappropriate and misleading advertising of prescription painkillers.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s suit alleged that Johnson & Johnson, through its pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen, caused a public health crisis that killed thousands of Oklahoma residents in opioid related deaths

The court found Johnson & Johnson culpable of bolstering a “public nuisance.” “The defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma,” presiding Judge Thad Balkman said in a statement.

On Friday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost asked a federal appeals court to halt a similar opioid trial set for October for claims made by Cuyahoga and Summit Counties in order to give the state of Ohio time to file its own case similar to Oklahoma’s.

He has asked the 6th Court of Appeals to dismiss the claims or order U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland to halt or delay the first federal trial that is set to begin Oct. 21.

The companies facing prosecution in Ohio’s courts include Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson,) Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Cephalon and Allergan.

First-year Jacob Tarter noted the irony in the nature of the Johnson and Johnson brand: “Their specialty is baby products, so I think that it kind of defeats the whole purpose of being a family-oriented company when you’re contributing to the opioid epidemic.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 388 overdose deaths involving opioids in Oklahoma in 2017. This averages to 10.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.

Comparatively, Ohio had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in 2017. There were 4,293 reported deaths in the state, with 39.2 deaths per 100,000 persons.

The $572 million that Oklahoma will receive from the settlement was short of the $17.5 billion that the state requested. The money is only enough to fund Oklahoma’s opioid recovery plan for one year.

Johnson & Johnson’s shares rose five percent in value immediately following the verdict. The amount Johnson & Johnson will pay to the state of Oklahoma is just five percent of the damages their product has caused across the state.

“It saddens me how many people we’re losing to something as preventable as opioid addiction. We need to put a stop to it,” first-year Maddie Schramm said.

“I think the opioid crisis is terrible, but they’re looking at the wrong people,” first-year Allie Greenwell said.

“I’m glad that we finally won (a lawsuit),” Schramm said.

By Mo Jeunger | Guest Writer

Photo courtesy of Flickr