Oklahoma Supreme Court reverses $465M opioid ruling against J&J

The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling Nov. 9 that would have required Johnson &  Johnson to pay the state $465 million to address its role in the opioid epidemic, The New York Times reported. 

In a 5-1 decision, the court rejected the Oklahoma attorney general's argument that Johnson & Johnson violated the state's public nuisance laws with aggressive opioid marketing tactics that downplayed the opioids' dangers. 

The attorney general had argued that health is a public right that Johnson & Johnson violated under the public nuisance law, the Times reported. But the Supreme Court judges said the attorney general failed to identify a public right under the nuisance law, and that the case was more likely a products liability case. 

"Oklahoma public nuisance law does not extend to the manufacturing, marketing and selling of prescription opioids," the judges wrote, according to the Times

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to the Times: "The clear and unassailable decision by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court reflects the facts of this case: [Johnson & Johnson's] actions relating to the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible and did not cause a public nuisance."

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor told the Times he was disappointed with the court's decision, but said, "We are still  pursuing our other pending claims against opioid distributors who have flooded our communities with these highly addictive drugs for decades. Oklahomans deserve nothing less."

A California judge issued a similar ruling Nov. 1, saying that Johnson & Johnson as well as three other drugmakers cannot be held liable for the state's opioid crisis. 

Four California counties filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that Allergan, Endo International, Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceuticals used misleading marketing to increase prescription opioid sales. Judge Peter Wilson argued in his ruling that the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence showing a direct link between drugmakers' marketing efforts and an increase in illicit use of prescription painkillers. 

Elizabeth Burch, a law professor at the University of Georgia, told the Times the two decisions should not be used to predict the fate of other opioid cases currently in courts, since other states have their own public nuisance laws. 

Read the Times' full article here

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