Oklahoma Supreme Court overturns ruling against Johnson & Johnson regarding opioid crisis

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a ruling which ordered drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to pay $465 million for its role in the state’s opioid crisis. The court ruled 5-1 that District Judge Thad Balkman ruled improperly when he rendered the judgment against J&J in August 2019.

Judge Balkman said at the time that J&J and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, created a public nuisance by compromising the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans by marketing opioids. However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the company’s actions didn’t violate the public nuisance law, stating: “The court has allowed public nuisance claims to address discrete, localized problems, not policy problems. J&J had no control of its products through the multiple levels of distribution, including after it sold the opioids to distributors and wholesalers, which were then disbursed to pharmacies, hospitals and physicians’ offices, and then prescribed by doctors to patients.”

Johnson & Johnson has faced thousands of lawsuits for its role in the opioid crisis, which the U.S. government blames for nearly 70,000 deaths in 2020. The company agreed to pay up to $5 billion over the next nine years as part of a wide-ranging settlement with 14 states involving up to 4,000 opioid-related claims.

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