In Oklahoma, a trial is underway to determine whether Johnson & Johnson is partially responsible for the damages caused by the opioid epidemic, with the company set to pay $17.5 billion to repair damages caused by the crisis.
Oklahoma has already had some success in extracting money from opioid manufacturers, settling with Purdue for $270 million and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries for $85 million in previous suits.
The Oklahoma suit is seen as a central legal argument for a separate, massive, consolidated lawsuit in an Ohio federal court brought by more than 1,900 cities, counties, Native American tribes, and other groups against the drug industry. The Ohio trial is set to start this October. The Oklahoma case could prove that Johnson & Johnson’s conduct created a “public nuisance,” adversely affecting the health of Oklahomans, and is responsible for mitigating the damage. In this case, monetary reparations are needed to spend on treatment, education, and other anti-opioid initiatives.
Johnson & Johnson contends that “the state’s evidence bears no resemblance to any public nuisance theory previously recognized by any Oklahoma court.”
The company’s lawyer, Larry Ottaway, argued that the company cannot be held responsible for selling legal products that are highly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration, among others.