Johnson & Johnson hit with $845m fine in Opioid lawsuit

In the widely watched lawsuit between Johnson & Johnson and the state of Oklahoma, the Judge made no attempt to hold back in his ruling against the pharmacy giant.

Key points from his damning 42-page decision include him saying, “the defendants, acting in concert with others, embarked on a major campaign in which they used branded and unbranded marketing to disseminate the messages that pain was under-treated and ‘there was a low risk of abuse and a low danger’ of prescribing opioids.”

Judge Thad Balkman delivers an even stronger statement a few pages later, saying “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns have caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction and overdose deaths”.

The deaths he is writing about are those caused by the worst drug epidemic in US history. It was an epidemic where, in Oklahoma, 18 million opioid prescriptions were written between 2015 and 2018 for a population of just 3.9 million people.

Describing the impact of the epidemic, Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter said, “from 2007 to 2017, opioid overdoses killed 4653 people in Oklahoma. Today, thousands more are still struggling with addiction”.

Mr Hunter 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.

In delivering his ruling, Judge Balkman said Johnson & Johnson ran a “false and dangerous campaign”, citing efforts by Johnson & Johnson’s sales reps to sell its own drugs, often by persuading doctors to prescribe them with claims that they carried little risk of addiction and were effective for long term treatment of chronic pain. The judge found these claims were “unsupported by any high-quality evidence”.

In the ruling he stated, “A key element in the defendants’ opioid marketing strategy to overcome barriers to liberal opioid prescribing was its promotion of the concept that chronic pain was under-treated (creating a problem) and increased opioid prescribing was the solution.”

Judge Balkman said the strategy contributed to an oversupply of opioids because of increased prescribing and ruled, “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns have caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction and overdose deaths”.

The high-profile lawsuit has been closely followed by other pharmaceutical companies, distributors and suppliers, many of which are facing similar lawsuits across the US where it’s reported approximately 2000 opioid related lawsuits are ready to commence.

After the ruling, lawyer for Johnson & Johnson Sabrina Strong said, “We have many strong grounds for appeal, and we intend to pursue those vigorously.”

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