OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In a major blow, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that a well-known drug company should not have been held liable for the state’s opioid crisis.
Following several deaths due to opioid addiction, the state of Oklahoma brought a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, saying the company fueled the opioid crisis in the state.
In 2019, Judge Thad Balkman ruled in favor of the state, saying that Johnson & Johnson’s actions compromised the health of thousands of Oklahomans.
According to the ruling, Balkman found that the “Defendants engaged in false and misleading marketing of both their drugs and opioids generally; and (b) this conduct constitutes a public nuisance under extant Oklahoma law.” His order also states that Johnson &Johnson’s practices were not protected by the First Amendment.
Balkman ordered the company to pay the state $465 million.
During an appeal of the ruling, Johnson & Johnson stated that it had already stopped marketing Schedule II branded products, adding that it sold only 3% of all prescription opioids statewide.
“The district court held J&J liable under Oklahoma’s public nuisance statute for conducting ‘false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns’ about prescription opioids,'” the ruling states.
In the appeal, attorneys for Johnson & Johnson state that Oklahoma’s public nuisance statute should not extend to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of products.
Now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that Johnson & Johnson should not have been held liable for the drug crisis.
“In reaching this decision, we do not minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of Oklahoma citizens have suffered because of opioids. However grave the problem of opioid addiction is in Oklahoma, public nuisance law does not provide a remedy for this harm,” the court’s ruling states.
It goes on to say that the nuisance law applies to “unlawful conduct that annoys, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health, or safety of others. But that conduct has been criminal or property-based conflict. Applying the nuisance statutes to lawful products as the State requests would create unlimited and unprincipled liability for product manufacturers; this is why our Court has never applied public nuisance law to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of lawful products.”
The court stressed that a manufacturer does not have control of its product once it is sold.
Johnson & Johnson released the following statement after the ruling:
“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue, and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. The Company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible. Today the Oklahoma State Supreme Court appropriately and categorically rejected the misguided and unprecedented expansion of the public nuisance law as a means to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and sale of products, including the Company’s prescription opioid medications.”
The Oklahoma Attorney Generals’ Office released the following statement:
“The Judgment holding Johnson & Johnson accountable for their deceptive actions was a huge victory for Oklahoma citizens and their families who have been ravaged by opioids. I am disappointed in the decision. Our staff will be exploring options. We are still pursuing our other pending claims against opioid distributors who have flooded our communities with these highly addictive drugs for decades. Oklahomans deserve nothing less.”