Hundreds of media converged on a Cleveland County courtroom Monday to hear a major ruling on a landmark case.
This story with national implications made global headlines. The world was watching the first trial resulting from thousands of lawsuits by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
This suit was a good, first step for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. Hoping the state could receive a sizable judgment to set up a settlement akin to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Trust, Hunter took a chance for a quicker resolution for Oklahoma versus winning no additional money.
The state proved that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen launched a misleading marketing campaign that created a public nuisance in Oklahoma.
Calling the opioid crisis “an imminent danger and menace” to Oklahomans, District Judge Thad Balkman ruled the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company caused an Oklahoma opioid crisis that led to thousands of deaths, and must pay $572.1 million to fix it. As expected, Johnson & Johnson plans an appeals process that could take years to play out.
Unfortunately, the amount was well short of the $17.5 billion state leaders were seeking to abate the crisis over three decades. The state essentially gets funds for only one year of abatement.
Legal experts aren’t sure what will happen in the next phase.
Although opioids are highly addictive, these prescribed drugs play a pivotal role in pain relief when they aren’t abused. We hope this ruling doesn’t have a chilling effect on pharmaceutical advances. Also, where does responsibility lie with doctors and opioid abusers?
This battle is a big victory for Oklahoma, but the war against the opioid epidemic is far from over. Our state has long underfunded mental health and addiction services to get to this point.
Only 1 out of every 3 Oklahomans needing treatment for mental health and addiction are able to find it, said Terri White, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
This ruling won’t stop abuse of drugs. The Legislature spent money for more treatment beds but will need much more money to fix this ongoing crisis