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US Judge Rules Medical Company Johnson & Johnson Helped Fuel Oklahoma Opioid Crisis

© AP Photo / Toby TalbotOxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont
OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont - Sputnik International
In a court hearing Monday in Oklahoma, Judge Thad Balkman found Johnson & Johnson liable in a lawsuit claiming that the drug company helped create the opioid epidemic in the state.

Balkman said that Johnson & Johnson must pay $572 million to help ease the opioid epidemic.

“The state met its burden that the defendants Janssen and Johnson & Johnson’s misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance as defined by [the law], including a finding that those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans," Balkman said during his ruling, which comes after a seven-week trial which started on May 28.

According to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, Johnson & Johnson, pushing opioids Duragesic and Nucynta, heavily marketed the drugs to doctors and understated the risks associated with the painkillers since the early 1990s. The state of Oklahoma was seeking more than $17 billion from Johnson & Johnson, CNBC reported. State officials noted during the proceedings that Oklahoma's opioid crisis would cost the state between $12.7 and $17.5 billion.

The American multinational pharmaceutical and medical devices company revealed Monday in court that it plans to appeal Balkman's ruling in the case.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the opioid crisis claimed more than 400,000 lives in the US between 1999 and 2017. Around 68% of the drug overdose deaths in the US in 2017 were caused by an opioid, the CDC reports.

Two drug companies, Purdue Pharma, which invented the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin in 1996, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, both settled with the state before the Johnson & Johnson trial began. Purdue Pharma agreed to a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma in March, while Teva Pharmaceuticals settled for $85 million with the state in June. Neither company admitted any wrongdoing. 

Americans are more likely to die from opioid overdoses than from vehicle crashes for the first time ever, according to 2017 data from the nonprofit National Safety Council, which promotes health and safety in the US.

A report released in January by the NSC found that opioid overdoses are currently the fifth most likely cause of death, with the odds of dying from overdose being 1 in 96. By comparison, the odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 103, the sixth most likely cause of death.

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