An Oklahoma judge has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the state’s opioid crisis. In the first of its kind ruling, Judge Thad Balkman declared that the crisis has “ravaged” the state. The verdict will likely shape the outcomes of the other approximately 2,000 similar cases pending throughout the country. It also offers hope to victims of one of the worst public health crises in history.
Balkman’s ruling concluded that Johnson & Johnson “engaged in false and misleading marketing of both their drugs and opioids generally.” More specifically, the court determined that Johnson & Johnson downplayed the risks and overplayed the benefits of opioids. Under the state’s public nuisance law, he declared, this is enough to hold the company liable. The pharmaceutical giant has promised to appeal the decision.
The state of Oklahoma had sought $17 billion for addiction treatment, drug courts, and other services. The state argued these were needed to treat people experiencing the consequences of opioid addiction. Despite falling far short of that figure, the verdict encourages plaintiffs and lawyers who handle dangerous drug cases pursuing similar lawsuits elsewhere. Settlements were previously reached between Oklahoma and two other pharmaceutical companies over their opioid drugs.
Opioids are highly addictive pain relievers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), over 130 people die each day from overdoses. The HHS declared a public health emergency concerning opioids in 2017. Popular prescription opioids include oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone.
Relatively minor side effects associated with opioids include dizziness, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. These pale in comparison to the serious and potentially life-threatening complications posed by these drugs, which include:
Addiction. When you become physically dependent on a drug (addicted), withdrawing can be dangerous. About 25% of opioid patients become addicted, according to the CDC.
Overdose. High doses of opioids can affect breathing, which can lead to death.
Respiratory problems. Slowing down breathing can also cause confusion, extreme sedation, and loss of consciousness.
Heart problems. Breathing complications can lead to heart trouble as well, including arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Higher risk patients include those with diabetes and a history of heart attacks.
The Oklahoma case highlights one of the successful arguments that has been used against the makers of opioid drugs. Plaintiffs in other lawsuits also contend that pharmaceutical companies aggressively pushed opioids into the market. One of the tactics allegedly used was bribing doctors to unnecessarily prescribe the drugs to patients. Lawsuits also argue that drug companies knew of the addictive nature of opioids but failed to warn doctors and patients. Big pharmaceutical giants, more interested in profits, turned a blind eye to the black market their drugs created. They raked in the money while people’s lives were destroyed.
Some legal experts predict that the state of Oklahoma faces an uphill battle in the appeals courts. Judges may be skeptical of the legal theory on which the decision was based. They may also question the extent to which a single company is responsible for the opioid crisis.
Still, the verdict will likely shape future arguments by both states and individual plaintiffs. Our law firm is reviewing the Oklahoma ruling and preparing legal strategies to represent injured opioid patients. If you or a loved one have been harmed by opioids, we strongly encourage you to contact our office. Legal compensation may be available to cover medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our goal is to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for the role they played in this epidemic. As the opioid crisis continues, other people’s lives may be saved if drug makers are forced to change their practices.
CONTACT US TO DISCUSS YOUR LEGAL OPTIONS DURING THIS OPIOID CRISIS
Drug makers owe patients a duty to be responsible with their products, including opioids. But many chose to disregard this duty, and people suffered as a result. Call Schneider Hammers today. We will review the details of your case and explore possible legal options with you.