Just over two decades after holding Big Tobacco liable, it appears that US Courts may be poised to likewise hold opioid and pain pill manufacturers liable for the public health crisis created by their product. Today, District Judge Thad Balkman, awarded the state of Oklahoma $572 million, in the first trial of its kind.
The language in Judge Balkman's opinion indicated that Johnson & Johnson's tactics of marketing and promoting of its opioids was “misleading”. Judge Balkman found, “[s]pecifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that's evidenced by increased rates of addiction, and overdose deaths.”
Johnson and Johnson was the last of seven defendants remaining by the time the matter proceeded to a seven week trial. All of the other defendants, including Purdue Pharmacy, who manufacturers and markets OxyContin, reached settlements with the state before trial.
While certainly a huge win for states across the nation that have struggled in their battle against the health crisis created by the drugs, the award of $572 million was admittedly far less than the $17 billion that Oklahoma had initially sought. Importantly though, by the time the suit was ultimately decided, six of the other defendants (including those most often blamed for creating the crisis) had already reached settlements.
One thing is certain, this will undoubtedly be the first of many trials aimed at opioid manufacturers, whom states blame for systematically and purposely creating the opioid crisis with their advertising and promotion tactics.
Chris M. Short is an attorney at Kiefer & Kiefer.