Johnson and Johnson Was Just Found Liable for Fueling the Opioid Epidemic In a Historic Trial

This decision could pave the way for future pharma lawsuits.

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In a landmark verdict, an Oklahoma judge ruled Monday that Johnson and Johnson is responsible for fueling the state’s opioid epidemic. The case, the first of its kind to go to trial, is being closely watched to see if a court is prepared to hold a pharmaceutical company responsible for the devastating consequences of the overdose crisis.

The opioid crisis has ravaged the state Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman. “Defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, also named in the Oklahoma suit, settled last spring for $270 million and $85 million respectively, leaving Johnson and Johnson and its pharmaceutical subsidiary, Janssen, to face charges that they created a “public nuisance.” Johnson and Johnson will pay a $571 million fine—more than its co-defendants, but far less than the $17 billion that the state originally requested to cover the costs of the crisis.

The state’s argument against Johnson and Johnson was multi-pronged. First, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter alleged that the company oversold its own opioid products, Nucynta and Duragesic, by targeting high-volume prescribers, paying key opinion leaders, funding pain patient advocacy groups, and generally promoting the idea that opioids were safe and effective for chronic pain. The state also accused the company of quietly dominating the opioid market for years, growing poppies in Tasmania and selling narcotics to leading drug companies, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. According to documents made public during the trial, by 2016, Johnson and Johnson subsidiary Noramco was allegedly the nation’s top supplier of opioids, including oxycodone (found in OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (found in Vicodin), codeine, and morphine. Throughout the trial, Johnson and Johnson denied wrongdoing and said it had been made a “scapegoat.”

Oklahoma is one of dozens of states suing drugmakers and distributors for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic. A federal trial involving nearly 2,000 municipalities is slated for this fall. 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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