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On Monday, an Oklahoma judge delivered a landmark ruling against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). The judge ruled that the company was culpable of fuelling the Oklahoma opioid crisis and fined the company $572 million.

Johnson & Johnson found culpable of misleading promotion and marketing of opioids

This was the first lawsuit to go on trial among a series of lawsuits filed against the opioid manufacturers and distributors. Defendants Johnson & Johnson and Janssen were found culpable through their misleading promotion and marketing of opioids. Their actions compromised the safety and health of several residents of Oklahoma. The judge indicated that the defendants especially caused the opioid crisis which resulted in increased addition rates, overdoses death as well as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The ruling indicates that the company constantly downplayed the risks of opioid addiction. It indicated that sales representatives mislead doctors by telling them that the risk was less than 2.6% if a doctor prescribed the drugs. The promotion of the drugs targeted physicians who prescribed large amounts of opioids as main customers.

In its defense the company has denied any wrongdoing, indicating that the promotion and marketing claims had scientific evidence. It also added that its painkillers Nucynta and Duragesic formed a small proportion of the opioids dispensed in Oklahoma.

Penalty to aid in caring and treatment of addicts

The $572 million fine will cover a year’s cost under the state’s plan to care and treat opioid addicts. Despite the state presenting numerous witnesses revealing that it will take at least 20 years to carry out its plan, the court did not find sufficient evidence of the time and costs required beyond year one to deal with the crisis.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids have been a major cause of overdose deaths. Between 1999 and 2017 close to 400,000 opioid overdose deaths were reported in the US. In Oklahoma, since 2000 more than 6,000 people have died from overdoses.

At the beginning of this year, the state settled with Teva Pharmaceutical for $85 million and Purdue Pharma for $270 million.