$572M Opioid Abuse Verdict Sends Shockwaves Through Big Pharma

August 26, 2019

An Oklahoma judge returned a $572 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson on Monday, finding that the pharmaceutical giant’s misleading marketing of highly addictive prescription opioids had created a “public nuisance” in that state.

“This is the most important decision yet in this ongoing public health crisis,” said Majed Nachawati, founding partner of Dallas-based Fears Nachawati PLLC, which represents regional governments and other plaintiffs in lawsuits against opioid makers.

“Even without the key defendant – Perdue Pharma – involved in this trial, Oklahoma prevailed on its theory of the case. This shows the level of conspiracy and culpability of many defendants beyond just the inventor of OxyContin,” Nachawati said.

The next trial is set for October. This high-profile verdict – in the first of thousands of similar lawsuits – puts pressure on manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.

Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman found that J&J’s marketing campaign minimized addiction risks of opioid painkillers while aggressively promoting their benefits, endangering the health of Oklahoma residents and causing sweeping economic damages. Co-defendant Perdue Pharma reached a $270 million settlement, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries settled for $85 million before the trial, which left J&J as the sole defendant on trial in this case.

All eyes are now on Ohio where the next trial is scheduled for October.

“This award, following a trial before a judge but no jury, remains substantial and will get resources back to the state of Oklahoma and its people who have suffered great hardships from the opioid epidemic,” said Jonathan Novak, an attorney at Fears Nachawati and former U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration litigator.

“However, with jury trials set to begin in October in the federal multidistrict litigation, the defendants should expect significantly larger verdicts when this same story is told to a jury of citizens whose lives have almost certainly been directly and personally affected by the opioid crisis. Perdue Pharma and the other defendants should be thinking long and hard about a meaningful global settlement.”

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