In the first decided case against a corporation accused of contributing to the opioid epidemic in the U.S., personal care and pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered on Monday to pay $572 million in fines for its role in perpetuating the crisis.
Through contracts with poppy growers in Tasmania, the company supplied 60 percent of the ingredients that drug companies used in opioid painkillers like OxyContin, contributing to the deaths of about 400,000 Americans in the last two decades—including 388 Oklahoma residents just in 2017.
Opioid manufacturers are facing thousands of lawsuits across the country for aggressively marketing drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet as non-addictive and safe for long-term use for chronic pain—even though the drugs are chemically very similar to heroin.
Public health advocates applauded District Judge Thad Balkman for holding the company accountable for its role in flooding Oklahoma with enough opioids between 2006 and 2012 for every resident to have nearly 100 pills each annually in some areas.
About damn time. We can't accept living in a country where Americans are in jail for possessing marijuana—but not a single Pharma exec has spent even a night behind bars for the opioid crisis. The least they can do is pay up. https://t.co/dbWlTHdJBc
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 26, 2019
This ruling against J&J on fueling the opioid crisis is interesting and significant. Same arguments can be used against gun manufacturers for fueling the gun violence epidemic we all now live with. We must be able to pursue our litigation against them.https://t.co/V0E3HB4xgA
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— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) August 26, 2019
"Johnson & Johnson executives made the calculated and coldblooded decision that they were going to produce a mutant strain of poppy, corner the market and supply massive amounts of the active ingredients for other companies to manufacture opioids," said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who brought the case against the company.
"Johnson & Johnson executives made the calculated and coldblooded decision that they were going to produce a mutant strain of poppy, corner the market and supply massive amounts of the active ingredients for other companies to manufacture opioids," —Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter pic.twitter.com/6qp6JOB9aT
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) August 26, 2019
Three executives at Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, were found guilty in 2007 of misleading doctors, patients, and regulators about the addictive nature of the drug, and were ordered to pay $34.5 million in fines, in addition to $600 million paid by the company. But the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson is the first of about 2,000 pending cases filed in cities and towns across the country where officials and residents want to hold opioid makers and marketers accountable for the damage they did to communities.
"The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma," Balkman said before announcing his verdict. "It must be abated immediately."