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Could A $572 Million Fine Help Halt The Opioid Epidemic?

In this photo illustration, a container of Johnson's baby powder made by Johnson and Johnson sits on a table.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

An Oklahoma judge decided Monday that drug giant Johnson & Johnson must pay the state $572 million for its part in contributing to Oklahoma’s opioid epidemic.

The case by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter was the first of its kind to go to trial. The decision sets a precedent for the thousands of other cases that are being filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors by state and local governments.

Here’s Hunter addressing the court in May:

[They] embarked on a cynical, deceitful, multibillion-dollar brainwashing campaign to establish opioid analgesics as the magic drug. Money may not be the root of all evil but … money can make people and businesses do bad things. Very bad things.

A federal judge in the Northern District of Ohio will have been watching the decision closely. Some legal analysts view it to be a bellwether for the approximately 1,900 pending cases against Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers.

Johnson & Johnson had argued that the two opioids it markets, Duragesic and Nucynta, were highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies and that the state has not adequately provided any evidence showing the drugs’ sale fueled the crisis.

The company said it plans to appeal the ruling.

Johnson & Johnson was the only defendant in the seven-week trial which began on May 28. Purdue Pharma, which has faced the brunt of the blame for the nationwide epidemic, settled with Oklahoma for $270 million. Teva Pharmaceutical also settled with that state for $85 million. Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

Oklahoma says that the marketing of painkillers in the state led to more than 6,000 deaths over the last two decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in approximately 400,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2017. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

So what does this case mean for Ohio? Will the money won help to address the crisis? We tried to find answers to these questions.

Produced by Haili Blassingame


Sarah Karlin-Smith, Health care reporter, Politico; @SarahKarlin

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