Nov 9, 2021 - Health

Oklahoma court reverses $465M opioid verdict against Johnson & Johnson

Picture of Johnson & Johnson sign
Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a district judge's $465 million opioid verdict against Johnson & Johnson, saying that the drugmaker did not violate the state's public nuisance law.

Catch up quick: A district judge had previously ruled that J&J had violated the law because the company created a public nuisance by falsely promoting its opioids as safe and necessary. Oklahoma's high court, in a 5-1 vote, said that interpretation is wrong.

Details: The court said the public nuisance law could not be extended to "envelop J&J's conduct as an opioid manufacturer" for three reasons:

  • "[T]he manufacture and distribution of products rarely cause a violation of a public right."
  • "[A] manufacturer does not generally have control of its product once it is sold."
  • "[A] manufacturer cannot be held perpetually liable for its products."

What they're saying: "J&J no longer promotes any prescription opioids and has not done so for several years," the Oklahoma Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.

  • "Even with J&J’s marketing practices these ... medications amounted to less than 1% of all Oklahoma opioid prescriptions."

Flashback: The district court's 2019 ruling that said that J&J was responsible for fueling Oklahoma's opioid pandemic was "a groundbreaking ruling and a potentially ominous harbinger for the opioid companies and distributors at the heart of the enormous national lawsuit pending before an Ohio judge," Axios' Bob Herman reported at the time.

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