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Oklahoma Judge Holds Johnson & Johnson Liable for State’s Opioid Crisis

The Johnson & Johnson logo is displayed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, May 29, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

An Oklahoma judge ruled Monday that drugmaker Johnson & Johnson catalyzed the state’s opioid crisis through “misleading marketing and promotion” that made its opioid products ubiquitous.

“The defendant caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma,” wrote Judge Thad Balkman, of Cleveland County District Court in Norman, Okla.

The Oklahoma attorney general, Mike Hunter, had demanded the company pay a $17 billion penalty to offset the costs of addiction-treatment and -prevention programs in the state, but Balkman ruled that the law allowed for only a $572 million penalty.

“Whether additional programs and funding are needed over an extended period of time, those are determinations to be made by our legislators and policy makers,” the judge wrote.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma resolved a claim against Purdue Pharma LP, which produces OxyContin, for $270 million as well as a claim against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd. for $85 million.

An estimated 6,000 Oklahomans have died as a result of the opioid crisis since the year 2000. Close to 400,000 Americans are estimated to have died as a result of the crisis between 1999 and 2017.

The case is seen as a harbinger for close to 2,000 separate opioid lawsuits scheduled to go to trial in October before a federal judge in Ohio.

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