An Oklahoma judge on Aug. 26 found New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson liable for fueling an opioid epidemic in the state through its marketing of painkillers and ordered the drugmaker to pay damages of $572 million.
In delivering his verdict from the bench, Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court in Norman, Okla. called the opiod epidemic an “imminent danger and menace,” according the CNBC.com.
Balkman said the state had shown that J&J engaged in “misleading marketing and promotion of opioids” that met the definition of public nuisance under the relevant state law.
“Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Balkman said, according to CNBC.
Shares of J&J rose 5 percent following the verdict. The state had been seeking more than $17 billion to help the offset the costs of the epidemic for the next 30 years through treatment and prevention programs.
The case brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter was the first to go to trial out of thousands of lawsuits filed by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
According to Reuters, the trial came after Oklahoma successfully pursued claims against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP in March for $270 million and against Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in May for $85 million, leaving J&J as the lone defendant.
J&J has denied wrongdoing. The company said in a statement that since 2008, its painkillers accounted for less than 1 percent of the U.S. market, including generics.
Lawyers for J&J have said the case rests on a “radical” interpretation of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law.
J&J said on Monday before Balkman’s ruling that the state’s attempt to use the law to address a “complex social problem” was “misguided and legally unsustainable.”