Johnson & Johnson’s greed for more sales of its addictive opioid painkillers helped create a deadly epidemic in Oklahoma that claimed thousands of lives, and the company should pay billions of dollars as compensation, the state’s top law-enforcement officer told a judge.
J&J and its Janssen unit used “deceitful’’ marketing campaigns to persuade doctors to prescribe the powerful medications for unapproved ailments, causing fatal overdoses and leading to increased addiction, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said at the start of a trial in the state’s claim against the company.
Oklahoma’s lawsuit is the first of more than 1,600 filed by U.S. governmental bodies to go to trial, all claiming drugmakers and distributors are responsible for a public-health calamity tied to opioid painkillers. They say billions in tax dollars were spent on dealing with the fallout of drug abuse. The outcome in Oklahoma could impact claims by other states, cities and counties.
Over-supply and over-prescription of opioids spawned the “worst man-made public-health crisis in the state’s history,’’ Hunter said during opening statements in Norman, Oklahoma. J&J and Janssen should be ordered “to clean up the terrible mess they’ve left us,” he said, “whatever the cost.’’
Hunter also sued opioid makers Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. for contributing to the crisis. Purdue, the top marketer in the state, settled in March for $270 million, and Teva agreed on Sunday to pay $85 million.
J&J’s lawyers will give their opening statement later today to Judge Thad Balkman, who is hearing the case without a jury. They are expected to attack the state’s use of Oklahoma’s public-nuisance law to address the opioid problems. In the past, the law has been used to address real-estate disputes.
The companies’ lawyers also will note their products at issue—fentanyl-based patch and an opioid painkiller—accounted for less than 1% of market for such medicines in the state.
Hunter dismissed the drugmaker’s anticipated attacks on the public-nuisance law as “ridiculous.’’ He said J&J’s illegal marketing was linked to the deaths of more than 4,600 Oklahoma residents between 2007 and 2017.
“The fact that I am a Republican, a conservative and someone who believes in capitalism doesn’t mean I will turn a blind eye” to companies that hurt people, Hunter told Balkman.
Hunter is seeking at least $10 billion from J&J to cover the current and future costs of dealing with the societal costs of opioid-related overdoses and addiction problems. Balkman will decide whether the company should pay.