In a lawsuit filed by the state of Oklahoma against Johnson & Johnson, Inc., Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were ordered on Aug. 26, 2019 to pay $572 million in penalties for helping to fuel the opioid crisis in Oklahoma.1
Prior to announcing his verdict, Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland Country District in Oklahoma said, “The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately.”1
According to the Associated Press, Oklahoma’s state attorney general Mike Hunter argued that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, including Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., “created a public nuisance by launching a ‘cunning, cynical and deceitful’ marketing campaign that overstated the benefits of opioid drugs for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.”3
“They’ve been the principal origin for the active pharmaceutical ingredient in prescription opioids in the country for the last two decades. It is one of the most important elements of causation with regard to why the defendants … are responsible for the epidemic in the country and in Oklahoma,” Hunter said.4
Judge Balkman’s ruling against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary companies is the first for a state-initiated opioid lawsuit that has made it to trial. It may help determine the course of negotiations involving some 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments against pharmaceutical companies linked to the opioid crisis.1 4
Hunter noted that the Oklahoma case could provide a “road map” for other states to follow. “That’s the message to other states: We did it in Oklahoma. You can do it elsewhere. Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their activities,” Hunter said.1
Johnson & Johnson is a major manufacturer of vaccines, including experimental vaccines for Ebola and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Other biologic products being developed by the company include a universal influenza vaccine and vaccines for the Zika virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).5 6 7 8 9
The company envisions significantly increasing its competitive position within the vaccine market. Last year, Johnson & Johnson announced completion of a new vaccine manufacturing plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, following four years of construction and an investment of €72 million. The Leiden plant was in addition to a small plant acquired through Johnson & Johnson’s purchase of Leiden-based vaccine maker Crucell NV in 2011 for $2.4 billion.8 9 10
1 Murphy S. Oklahoma judge rules against drugmaker, orders $572M payment. Associated Press Aug. 26, 2019.
2 Murphy S. Spotlight on Oklahoma for start of trial for opioid. Associated Press May 27, 2019.
3 Murphy S. Oklahoma AG calls company ‘kingpin’ in state’s opioid crisis. Associated Press July 15, 2019.
4 Associated Press. Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $572 million in opioids lawsuit. MSN Aug. 26, 2019.
5 Parpia R. NIH and Johnson & Johnson to Begin HIV Vaccine Trials on Humans. The Vaccine Reaction July 18, 2019.
6 Cohen J. Deploying Experimental Vaccines Against Ebola. Forbes Aug. 9, 2019.
7 Universal flu vaccine. Johnson & Johnson.
8 Johnson & Johnson Unveils New Vaccines Launch Facility to Support Global Rollout of Novel Vaccines. Johnson & Johnson.
9 Sagonowsky E. Johnson & Johnson steps up vaccines R&D—and prepares for launches—with €72M plant. Fierce Pharma Oct. 25, 2018.
10 Ritter A. Johnson & Johnson Acquires Vaccine Developer Crucell. BioPharm International Mar. 8, 2011.