A court in Oklahoma on Monday held the US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson responsible for the state’s opioid addiction menace and ordered it to pay $572 million in damages, reports say.
The landmark ruling, the first against a drug-maker in a civil trial, could set a precedent for more such court action against producers, distributors and retailers facing lawsuits over addiction and overdose deaths nationwide.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said the prosecutors established how J&J’s misleading[EJ1] marketing of highly addictive prescription painkillers affected the health of some 4,000 locals for more than 20 years.
J&J promoted its drugs by pushing an education programme through sales representatives, funding articles in medical journals and hiring speakers, the judge said.
While J&J claimed its drugs played only a marginal role in the addiction crisis, the judge said the company promoted its painkillers aggressively and downplayed the risk of addiction.
The judge also heard testimony from victims of the menace.
Balkman ordered J&J and its Janssen pharmaceuticals division to fund an abatement plan to take care of the addicts, their families and communities affected by the company’s false promotion drive.
Oklahoma’s Attorney General Mike Hunter told the court that with an eye on profits, J&J and other pharmaceutical companies launched a deceitful campaign to establish opioid painkillers as the magic drug.
J&J ignored the warnings issued by federal governments and scientific advisers about the dangers posed by its opioid analgesics. It also ignore the advice to compensate for the deaths, Hunter later said at a press conference.
J&J said it would appeal the ruling.
Two other major drug-makers accused in the same case, US-based Purdue Pharma and Israel’s Teva, settled with the state to avoid trial.
Purdue agreed to pay the state $270 million in March and Teva reached an $85 million settlement.
In July last year, a court in St Louis, Missouri, ordered J&J to pay $550 million in actual damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages to 22 women who claimed they developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talcum powder for years.