Oklahoma’s Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a previous major ruling against the drug company Johnson & Johnson.
As reported by The Hill, “The 5-1 decision reversed a district court’s $465 million judgement against Johnson & Johnson for its role in the state’s opioid epidemic.”
In 2019, the company was told to pay the large sum of money to essentially cover a year’s worth of initiatives and treatment.
“Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals liable under Oklahoma’s public nuisance statute for conducting ‘false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns’ about prescription opioids that helped lead to thousands of overdose deaths,” the outlet added.
As NPR noted, in 2019, Balkman “ruled in favor of the legal argument that J&J created a ‘public nuisance’ through its marketing of prescription pain pills.”
For Johnson & Johnson’s part, the drugmaker reportedly said that its Janssen pharmaceutical group acted “relating to the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible and did not cause a public nuisance.”
Johnson & Johnson also discussed the complicated problem of the opioid crisis, saying, “We have deep sympathy for everyone affected.”
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed by other states, local jurisdictions, and Native American tribes arguing that the pharmaceutical business participated in fueling the opioid epidemic.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said his team is looking into other action after the ruling on Tuesday.
“I am disappointed,” Mr. O’Connor said. “We are still pursuing our other pending claims against opioid distributors who have flooded our communities with these highly addictive drugs for decades.”
The majority opinion stated, “The district court stepping into the shoes of the legislature by creating and funding government programs designed to address social and health issues goes too far…This Court defers the policy-making to the legislative and executive branches and rejects the unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law.”
“In reaching this decision, we do not minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of Oklahoma citizens have suffered because of opioids. However grave the problem of opioid addiction is in Oklahoma, public nuisance law does not provide a remedy for this harm,” Justice James Winchester reportedly wrote for the majority.
“A product manufacturer’s responsibility is to put a lawful, non-defective product into the market. There is no common law tort duty to monitor how a consumer uses or misuses a product after it is sold,” Winchester wrote.
The justices also stated the decision by the lower court would get rid of the conventional structures on nuisance liability.
“Without these limitations, businesses have no way to know whether they might face nuisance liability for manufacturing, marketing, or selling products, i.e., will a sugar manufacturer or the fast food industry be liable for obesity, will an alcohol manufacturer be liable for psychological harms, or will a car manufacturer be liable for health hazards from lung disease to dementia or for air pollution,” Winchester wrote.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost “841,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose.[…]Over 70% of drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created even more of a problem for those struggling with opioid addiction as traditional treatment methods were not as readily available.
As reported by the American Academy of Family Physicians, a July Vital Statistics Rapid Release from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) “reported that in 2020, drug overdose deaths in the United States increased by nearly 30% over the previous year, reaching an all-time high of more than 93,000.”
“Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) and psychostimulants such as methamphetamine also increased in 2020 compared to 2019. Cocaine deaths also increased in 2020, as did deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioids (such as prescription pain medication),” the NCHS said in a statement.
“This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in a statement.