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An Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis in a historic ruling on Monday, marking the first time an opioid manufacturer has been deemed responsible in court and made to pay damages. It could have implications for the slew of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors throughout the country.

A much bigger federal case before an Ohio judge involves at least 1,600 consolidated lawsuits from cities and counties from across the country, including hard-hit regions like Portsmouth, Ohio and Huntington, W.Va. The nationwide suit was filed in Ohio because of the state’s high opioid overdose rate, its proximity to various drugmakers’ headquarters and the judge’s experience on a previous consolidated case involving damage claims related to dyes used in magnetic resonance imaging procedures, according to the Associated Press. It is scheduled to go to trial in October.

Another 400 cases are being fought over in state courts — many of them brought by state attorney generals.

“Regardless of what happened in Oklahoma, the 1,600 cases pending in Ohio are racing towards a settlement. If anything, this trial might hasten the defendants to get the trial settled,” Abbe Gluck, a Yale law professor and Faculty Director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy, tells TIME

Claps wrote In a brief for a client, which was first reported by Bloomberg and emailed to TIME, that the Oklahoma settlement “suggests future damages could total $37 billion to abate the opioid crisis across the entire country.” That amount would “be divided between the various opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy/PBM defendants who face liability — not just [Johnson & Johnson],” he says.

While the defendants across the different lawsuits vary, the allegations and big names at the center of legal battles remain relatively consistent. Purdue Pharma, known for producing and marketing the opioid painkiller OxyContin, has been named as a defendant in most, if not all lawsuits. Johnson & Johnson is a common defendant, too. Both companies are defendants in the multi-district litigation case in Ohio.

Prosecution lawyers involved in the multi-district litigation in Ohio appear to be encouraged by the Oklahoma verdict.

Joe Khan, a public interest attorney at Philadelphia-based Langer, Grogan, & Diver P.C., represents cities and counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Mississippi in the Ohio case. He considers the Oklahoma ruling to be a “watershed development.”

“It’s the first time that any of these claims have been trial tested,” Khan tells TIME. “It’s clear the result from yesterday helps define some parameters for parties.”

Khan believes the verdict “sends a very strong signal to defendants” that “rolling the dice (and going to trial) was not the winning strategy.”

Johnson & Johnson, which brought in revenue of more than $81 billion last year, said in an emailed statement to TIME they will be appealing the judgment, reiterating that the company “did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome.” The statement also noted that opioids sold by Johnson & Johnson “have accounted for less than one percent of total opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma as well as the United States.”Continue Reading

By Ian Dei

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