Johnson & Johnson held liable for harm caused to Oklahomans, fueling opioid epidemic
NORMAN, OK (STL.News) – Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter today commended Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman for ruling in the state’s favor and ordering Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries to pay $572 million to abate the ongoing opioid epidemic in Oklahoma.
The judge’s ruling is the first of its kind in the country to find an opioid manufacturer liable for the harm caused from the opioid crisis in the United States.
“Today is a major victory for the state of Oklahoma, the nation and everyone who has lost a loved one because of an opioid overdose,” Attorney General Hunter said. “Judge Balkman has affirmed our position that Johnson & Johnson maliciously and diabolically created the opioid epidemic in our state. Our evidence convincingly showed that this company did not just lie and mislead, they colluded with other companies in route to the deadliest manmade epidemic our nation has ever seen. When deaths and sales of the drugs began to skyrocket in tandem, the company repeatedly ignored the problem and built its billion dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of the pain and suffering of Oklahomans.
“It is my hope that this judgment will provide some solace to the thousands of families, who have tragically lost a loved one due to an opioid overdose. It should also inspire a sense of optimism in those still struggling with an opioid addiction because we remain committed to abating the crisis, thus bringing about a brighter future for those suffering and our state.
“Additionally, I continue to be grateful for the talented team of attorneys who worked on this case. It took tremendous courage to take this case on. These are attorneys who have suffered greatly not just during this case with substantial time away from their families and forgoing taking on other cases, but many on this team have also lost loved ones to an addiction to these deadly drugs. They know firsthand the anguish of burying a family member, who they first had to watch spiral into despair.
“Finally, just as we have said at different stages of the case when Johnson & Johnson pulled out all the stops to try to derail or stall the case, we appreciate Judge Balkman’s wisdom and openness. He saw through the company’s desperate acts to delay justice for Oklahomans.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there have been nearly 400,000 overdose deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2017. Evidence presented by the state during trial showed that since 2000 approximately 6,000 Oklahomans died from an opioid overdose, while thousands more are still struggling with addiction.
Through evidence presented at trial, the state successfully showed during this time period that Oklahoma doctors were targeted over 150,000 times by Johnson & Johnson sales representatives. The sales representatives aggressively marketed and bombarded doctors with pseudoscience and misleading information that downplayed the risks of opioids, leading to the public nuisance. As a result, when opioid sales in Oklahoma began to skyrocket, the death toll from unintentional prescription drug-related overdoses mounted, leaving behind broken homes, families and communities.