The plight of the aged is a slow kill, coupled with the Age Care Fiasco /Royal Commission and the Kill Granny Bill which just passed in W.A. – Mick Raven
US opioid crisis ruling leads to $845 million fine for drug maker Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma
A US state judge has found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel Oklahoma’s opioid crisis, ordering the consumer products giant to pay $US572 million ($844 million) to clean up the problem.
- The Attorney-General said Johnson & Johnson was a “kingpin” motivated by “greed”
- The Oklahoma judge said the company understated the drugs’ addiction risk
- Opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017
Johnson & Johnson has a contract with poppy growers in Tasmania who produce a lot of the raw opium used to make the company’s drugs.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over roughly 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal US judge in Ohio.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma,” Mr Balkman said before announcing the verdict. “It must be abated immediately.”
The companies are expected to appeal against the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court with one of its lawyer, Sabrina Strong, calling the judge’s decision “flawed”.
Before Oklahoma’s trial began on May 28, Oklahoma reached settlements with two other defendant groups — a $US270 million ($398.5 million) deal with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and an $US85 million ($125 million) settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
Oklahoma argued the companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.
Oklahoma Attorney-General Mike Hunter said opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.
Mr Hunter has called Johnson & Johnson a “kingpin” company that was motivated by greed.
He specifically pointed to two former Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries, Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids, which produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs. Tasmanian Alkaloids is Australia’s largest processing company for opium poppy.
“[Johnson & Johnson] have been the principal origin for the active pharmaceutical ingredient in prescription opioids in the country for the last two decades,” Mr Hunter said after the trial ended July 15.
“It is one of the most important elements of causation with regard to why the defendants … are responsible for the epidemic in the country and in Oklahoma.”
‘This entire crisis began in Tasmania and New Jersey’
Brad Beckworth — one of the state’s lawyers — said Johnson & Johnson underestimated his team.
“We know that the root of this entire crisis began in Tasmania and New Jersey with Johnson & Johnson,” Mr Beckworth said.
“And they can’t laugh anymore, they can’t call this case baseless anymore.”
Lawyers for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight, including the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, during every step of the supply chain.
Lead lawyer Larry Ottaway said during closing arguments that opioid drugs serve a critical health need — to address chronic pain that affects thousands of Oklahomans every day.
“This problem of untreated chronic pain afflicts people here in Oklahoma,” Mr Ottaway said.
Oklahoma pursued the case under the state’s public nuisance statute and presented the judge with a plan to abate the crisis that would cost between $US12.6 billion ($18.6 billion) for 20 years and $US17.5 billion ($25.8 billion) over 30 years.
Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson have said that estimate is wildly inflated.
Also on Monday, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to review an earlier ruling, making previously secret testimony from former Purdue Pharma president Rickard Sackler and other documents public.
The court record was sealed in 2015 as part of a $US24 million ($35.4 million) settlement between Purdue and Kentucky.
The 17 million pages of documents were being shipped on Monday from Frankfort to Pike County, where the case originated. The Pike County Circuit Court Clerk’s office could not immediately say how and when they would be available.