On Monday, Johnson & Johnson was found liable for fueling Oklahoma’s opioid crisis. A judge ordered the pharmaceutical company to pay $572 million to help the devastation caused by the epidemic on the state and its residents. 

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman announces to punish the drugmaker for the fallout of years of liberal opioid dispensing that started in the late 1990s which sparked a nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths and addiction. Since 1999, over 400,000 people died due to overdose from painkillers, heroin and illegal fentanyl.

The judge clearly read out his part of the decision that, “The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma and must be abated immediately.” 

“As a matter of law, I find that defendants’ actions caused harm, and those harms are the kinds recognized by [state law] because those actions annoyed, injured or endangered the comfort, repose, health or safety of Oklahomans,” he wrote in the decision.

The same kinds of complaints were done by more than 40 states against Johnson & Johnson. The order in the first state case to go to trial could influence both sides’ strategies in the months and years to come. 

However, Balkman did not provide the state everything it demanded including- $17.5 billion over 30 years for treatment, emergency care, law enforcement, social services, and other addiction-related needs. 

The judge concluded that it would cost $572 million to address the crisis in the first year based on the state’s plan and added that the state did not provide “sufficient evidence” of the time and money that was required after that.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter hold a fresh conference after the decision and described it as a  “great triumph” two years in the making.”Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their products,” he added. 

Challenging the company’s CEO, Alex Gorsky, he asked to “step up” and pay for treatment and other services for Oklahomans affected by material abuse. Just after the judge declared his decision, Johnson & Johnson said it would appeal. 

Company attorney Sabrina Strong said at a news conference, “We are disappointed and disagree with the judge’s decision. We believe it is flawed.”

“We have sympathy for those who suffer from opioid use disorder,” Strong added. “But Johnson & Johnson did not cause the opioid abuse crisis here in Oklahoma or anywhere in this country.” Since 2000, more than 6000 Oklahomans have died after having overdoses of painkillers. 

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