Oklahoma Subjects Johnson & Johnson to Landmark Opioid Ruling

law - gavel and scaleCleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman has ruled that Johnson & Johson must pay the State of Oklahoma $572 million for its role in fueling the opioid crisis.

The Washington Post reports on the judge’s decision:

“As a matter of law, I find that defendants’ actions caused harm, and those harms are the kinds recognized by [state law] because those actions annoyed, injured or endangered the comfort, repose, health or safety of Oklahomans,” he wrote in the decision.

Balkman did not give the state everything it sought — state attorneys had asked for $17.5 billion over 30 years for treatment, emergency care, law enforcement, social services and other addiction-related needs. But the judge concluded it would cost $572 million to address the crisis in the first year based on the state’s plan. He said the state did not provide “sufficient evidence” of the time and money needed to respond after that.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Purdue Pharma LLC, the maker of OxyContin,  reached a $270 million settlement with the Attorney General for Oklahoma for its role in the deadly opioid crisis. Another manufacturer, Tevla, settled for $85 million. Rather than settle, Johnson & Johnson chose to continue to fight the case in court. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson plan to appeal the ruling.

With more than 40 states individually pursuing lawsuits and over 2,000 counties and municipalities jointly pursuing a federal lawsuit against drug manufacturers and distributors, the Oklahoma ruling may have significant influence over their litigation strategies and on the potential for settlement agreements.

NPR reports that Purdue is considering a global settlement and notes how any settlement may potentially be complicated by the myriad of lawsuits:

There are roughly 2,000 cases in the consolidated lawsuit, called the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, that is pending before Polster in Ohio. The sprawling Ohio case against 22 opioid manufacturers and distributors is expected to begin in October if the parties do not reach a settlement.

Dozens of state attorneys general have also chosen to file their own separate lawsuits against Purdue and other major pharmaceutical companies.

Finalizing any settlement will not be simple, partly because state and local officials are having difficulty determining who would control any monies generated by these lawsuits and how they would be spent.

For more information:

Related coverage from Conduit Street:

Purdue Pharma Settles Opioid Lawsuit with Oklahoma Attorney General

Drug Companies Are Settling With States. How Will The Money Be Spent?

DEA Data: U.S. Saturated with 76 Billion Opioid Pills Over Nearly a Decade’s Time

Maker of Suboxone Reaches Largest Settlement Yet Related to Opioid Crisis