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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Johnson & Johnson has officially been found liable in Oklahoma for deceptive and false marketing of opioids — the first major instance of legal accountability for the opioid epidemic.

Yes, but: If Oklahoma's $572 million judgment is a sign of things to come, states may only be looking at short-term relief — and drug companies may only incur short-term annoyances, rather than crippling penalties.

The big picture: Judge Thad Balkman wrote in his decision that J&J "pervasively, systemically and substantially" created a public nuisance by falsely promoting its opioids as safe and necessary, which led to massive overprescribing and addiction.

  • Oklahoma had claimed J&J was the opioid "kingpin."

Why it matters: "This is the first time ... that a pharmaceutical company has been found responsible in the court of law for causing the opioid crisis," said Andrew Kolodny, a doctor and opioid researcher who was a key witness for Oklahoma in the case. "This is a landmark decision."

Between the lines: $572 million is just the 1-year cost of abating Oklahoma's opioid crisis, the ruling says.

  • The state wanted $17 billion, but the judge said it didn't present enough evidence to validate a longer-term payout. One year of addiction treatment services and other programs is a Band-Aid.
  • The judgment is less than 4% of J&J's net profit from 2018, and significancly less than the $2 billion some Wall Street analysts expected J&J to end up paying — and that's why shares of J&J and other related companies soared in after-hours trading.
  • If this case is used as a benchmark in the national lawsuit, J&J likely would pay billions — but again, not an insurmountable amount for a company that brings in more than $80 billion of sales annually.

What they're saying: J&J plans to appeal, saying in a statement the judge's decision was "flawed" and that it is ready to extend this fight into 2021.

  • Wall Street prognosticator Kevin O'Leary, among others, has urged J&J and other companies to "fight like hell through the litigation."

Go deeper

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office.
  2. Health: Coronavirus death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased COVID-19 testing can reduce transmission — Hospitalizations top 100,000 for the first time.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  4. Vaccine: What COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to do — Obama, Bush and Clinton willing to take vaccine in public —WSJ: Pfizer expects to ship half as many COVID vaccines as planned in 2020.
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Clean trucks are paving the road to the electric vehicle era

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The electric vehicle revolution is underway, led by the un-sexiest of plug-in models: the commercial truck.

Why it matters: Growing demand for cleaner trucks means 2021 will be a pivotal year for electric vehicles — just not the kind you might have expected.