Washington: A US court has ruled that American pharma major Johnson & Johnson (J&J) must pay over $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis in Oklahoma that, according to the state, has resulted in more than 6,000 deaths over the past two decades.
The order was pronounced by district court judge in Cleveland County, Thad Balkman, who on Monday ruled that the company must pay a total of $572,102,088 in compensation for the damage its products have caused in the state, Efe news reported.
"The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be abated immediately," said Balkman in issuing his ruling in court. This was a key ruling for the big pharma firms given that there are numerous similar claims that have been filed in more than 40 US states, along with a federal lawsuit that more than 2,000 cities and counties have joined.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, a Republican, had filed suit in 2017 against three big pharma companies - J&J, Purdue Pharma and Teva - accusing them of causing public harm by flooding the state with opioids without adequately informing the public of the risk of addiction to people using them.
Hunter said that the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma has caused more than 6,000 deaths over the past 20 years. J&J denied the accusations and its attorney, John Sparks, questioned the application of the "public harm" law cited by Oklahoma prosecutors and argued that state authorities had "misinterpreted" the law.
The other two companies accused by Oklahoma, Purdue Pharma and Teva, reached out-of-court settlement agreements with local authorities valued at $270 million and $85 million, respectively, to avoid having to go to court.
The payments provided by the companies will go toward financing research and treatment of addiction among the Oklahoma public and to the payment of legal expenses arising from the cases, local media said.
Oklahoma presented its case in 2017, amid a wave of similar legal actions by the other states most affected by the opioid epidemic, including Texas, Missouri and others.
According to figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses of opioids in the US resulted in more than 47,000 deaths in 2017, of which about 36 percent involved drugs that had been supplied as per medical prescriptions.