Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky speaks at the pharmaceutical company's 2013 shareholder meeting. A judge in Oklahoma ordered the company to pay the state $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis. File Photo courtesy Johnson & Johnson
Aug. 26 (UPI) -- An Oklahoma judge on Monday ordered drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $573 million for the company's role in the opioid crisis.
District Judge Thad Balkman ruled that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals created a "nuisance as defined by [the law]" that compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans by marketing and promoting opioids.
"Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that's evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome," Balkman said.
In its lawsuit, the Oklahoma attorney general's office said Johnson & Johnson contracted with poppy growers to supply 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companies used in drugs such as oxycodone. The lawsuit also said the company manufactured its own opioids through Janssen, creating a pill that it sold the rights to in 2015 and a fentanyl patch it continues to produce.
Balkman's ruling agreed with the state's assertion that Johnson & Johnson trained sales representatives to downplay the risk of opioid addiction, telling doctors that the risk of addiction was 2.6 percent or less if prescribed by a doctor.
"We've shown J&J was at the root cause of this opioid crisis," lead attorney for the state Brad Beckworth said. "It made billions of dollars from it over a 20-year period. They've always denied responsibility and yet at the same time they say they want to make a difference in solving this problem. So do the right thing: come in here, pay the judgment."
Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the court's ruling.
"Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome," Johnson & Johnson general counsel Michael Ulmann said. "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."