US county district court rules against Johnson & Johnson in landmark opioid trial

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Johnson & Johnson [Photo/VCG]

A county district court in U.S. state of Oklahoma on Monday ruled against Johnson & Johnson, ordering it to pay the state 572 million U.S. dollars in the first trial of an opioid manufacturer.

Judge Thad Balkman, of Cleveland County District Court in Norman, Oklahoma, is the first judge to rule in the opioid cases brought to trial by thousands of state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter claimed in court that the sales push by Johnson & Johnson and its pharmaceutical subsidiary, Janssen, starting in the 1990s had created "a public nuisance" that led to the deaths.

Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies issued a statement, announcing they will appeal the 572 million U.S. dollars civil judgment in Oklahoma.

"Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome," said Michael Ullmann, executive vice president, general counsel, Johnson & Johnson. "We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need."

Earlier this year, Balkman ruled that the civil lawsuit brought by the state of Oklahoma against nine drug companies would be tried before him instead of a jury, and that the trial would take place in his Cleveland County courtroom.

Defendants had asked that the trial be moved to the Bell Courtroom at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Attorney General Mike Hunter's office requested a non-jury trial on the basis the state is not seeking to recover past, future or punitive damages, but rather "equitable relief."

Judge Balkman ruled against Johnson & Johnson for finding that the company helped fuel the opioid epidemic.

Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, some 6,000 people in Oklahoma have died from opioid overdoses, according to the state's lawyers.

Johnson & Johnson is an American multinational founded in 1886. Headquartered in New Brunswick, U.S. state of New Jersey, the corporation includes some 250 subsidiary companies with operations in 60 countries and products sold in over 175 countries.

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