This week, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $572 million for contributing to the opioid crisis in the state of Oklahoma.
Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were ordered by an Oklahoma judge to pay $572 million because they were found to be key players in helping to fuel the opioid crisis in the state.
While this is largest opioid settlement to date, it is not the first. Previously, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma was ordered to pay $270 million, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. was ordered to pay $85 million. The Johnson & Johnson ruling likely will not be the last, as the Associated Press (AP) reported that there are about 1,500 similar lawsuits being settled by state, local, and tribal governments.
“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately,” Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said during the recent court ruling.
Johnson & Johnson lawyers said that they plan to appeal the ruling and take it to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. They also stressed that the production of the drugs is heavily regulated by federal agencies including the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.
Opioids are typically the go-to when it comes to treating cancer-related pain.
In the field of breast cancer alone, there are over 1 million operations each year, which puts oncology professionals in a prime position to prescribe less, and affect the crisis, which is poised to kill thousands of Americans this year alone, explained Patrick I. Borgen, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery and director of breast cancer at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.
While opioids do have their place in oncology and healthcare in general, there are other ways of treating pain, including hypnosis, physical and occupational therapy, and other less-addictive agents.
Johnson & Johnson lawyer Sabrina Strong said that while the company and its subsidiaries are sympathetic to those affected by opioid addiction, litigation is not the answer to the problem.
“You can’t sue your way out of the opioid abuse crisis,” Strong said in the AP report.
However, Balkman is more optimistic that the landmark ruling in his state could pave the way for future cases.
“That’s the message to other states: We did it in Oklahoma. You can do it elsewhere,” Hunter said. “Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their activities.”