Drug­maker or­dered to pay $572M

John­son & John­son fu­eled Ok­la­homa's years­long nar­cotics prob­lem, judge rules

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Lenny Bern­stein

NOR­MAN, Okla. — A judge on Mon­day found John­son & John­son re­spon­si­ble for fu­el­ing Ok­la­homa’s opi­oid cri­sis, or­der­ing the health care com­pany to pay $572.1 mil­lion to re­dress the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences suf­fered by the state and its res­i­dents.

Cleveland County Dis­trict Judge Thad Balk­man’s land­mark de­ci­sion is the first to hold a drug­maker cul­pa­ble for the fall­out of years of opi­oid dis­pens­ing that be­gan in the late 1990s, spark­ing a na­tion­wide epi­demic of over­dose deaths and ad­dic­tion. More than 400,000 peo­ple have died of overdoses from painkiller­s, heroin and il­le­gal fen­tanyl since 1999.

Balk­man, who read part of his de­ci­sion aloud in his court­room Mon­day af­ter­noon, said “the opi­oid cri­sis has rav­aged the state of Ok­la­homa and

must be abated im­me­di­ately.”

With more than 40 states lined up to pur­sue sim­i­lar claims against the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, the rul­ing in the first state case to go to trial could in­flu­ence both sides’ strate­gies in the months and years to come. Its im­pact on an enor­mous fed­eral law­suit brought by nearly 2,000 cities, coun­ties, Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes and oth­ers, which is sched­uled to be­gin in Oc­to­ber, is less cer­tain.

Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike Hunter, a Repub­li­can, sued three ma­jor drug com­pa­nies in 2017, ac­cus­ing them of cre­at­ing “a pub­lic nui­sance” by flood­ing the state with opi­oids, while down­play­ing the drugs’ ad­dic­tive po­ten­tial and per­suad­ing physi­cians to use them even for mi­nor aches and pains. Be­fore the late 1990s, physi­cians re­served the pow­er­ful drugs pri­mar­ily for can­cer and post-sur­gi­cal pain and end-oflife care.

More than 6,000 Ok­la­homans have died of painkiller overdoses since 2000, the state charged.

Ok­la­homa set­tled with Pur­due Pharma, man­u­fac­turer of OxyCon­tin, in March, ac­cept­ing $270 mil­lion from the com­pany and its own­ers, the Sack­ler fam­ily. Most of that will go to a treat­ment and re­search cen­ter at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity.

In May, two days be­fore the trial be­gan, the state set­tled with Teva Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, an Is­raeli-based man­u­fac­turer of generic drugs, for $85 mil­lion.

That left John­son & John­son, which has de­nied any wrong­do­ing and chose to fight the ac­cu­sa­tions in what be­came a seven-week trial be­fore Balk­man. There was no jury.

The com­pany’s prod­ucts — two pre­scrip­tion opi­oid pills and a fen­tanyl skin patch sold by sub­sidiary Janssen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — were a small part of the painkiller­s con­sumed in Ok­la­homa. But Hunter painted the com­pany as a “king­pin” of the drug trade be­cause two other com­pa­nies it owned grew, pro­cessed and sup­plied most of the main in­gre­di­ents in painkiller­s sold by most drug com­pa­nies.

“At the root of this cri­sis was John­son & John­son, a com­pany that lit­er­ally cre­ated the poppy that be­came the source of the opi­oid cri­sis,” the state charged.

The state also said John­son & John­son took part in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try’s ef­fort to change doc­tors’ re­luc­tance to pre­scribe opi­oids by mount­ing an ag­gres­sive mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign that tar­geted the least knowl­edge­able physi­cians.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.