Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

J&J found liable in first opioid mis-marketing verdict

Oklahoma challenge a milestone, but company will appeal


Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been ordered to pay $572m following a legal verdict which found it responsible for fuelling the opioid crisis in the US state of Oklahoma.

The ruling makes Oklahoma the first state to successfully sue a manufacturer for their role in the US opioid crisis, which has seen addiction to the drugs and deaths by overdose skyrocket over the last 20 years.

One small consolation for J&J at this stage is the size of the damages awarded. The state of Oklahoma had been seeking $17bn, but the final amount awarded was $572m, a fraction of the sum sought.

As a result, shares of J&J rose more than 5% following the ruling. Nevertheless, the court's decision could set a precedent for other drug companies involved in marketing opioids during this period, unless it is reversed on appeal.

Lawyers for the state argued that J&J purposefully provided misleading information in its marketing, which minimised the risks of its opioid painkillers and promoted the benefits. Following the seven-week, non-jury trial, Judge Thad Balkman determined that J&J “acting in concert with others, embarked on a major campaign in which they used branded and unbranded marketing to disseminate the messages that pain was under-treated and ‘there was a low risk of abuse and a low danger’ of prescribing opioids”.

According to the trial, J&J sales reps persuaded doctors to prescribe the drugs with claims that the risk of addiction was low, despite these claims being unsupported. In his ruling, Balkman said the company’s opioid marketing strategy was based on promoting the idea that chronic pain was an under-treated condition, and that more liberal opioid prescribing was the solution.


Pete Buttigieg was among Democrat Presidential candidates tweeting their support of the ruling

Oklahoma claimed that despite repeated warnings that the sales materials for J&J’s drug Duragesic were misleading, from not only its advisory board but also the FDA, the company maintained that its opioids were effective and safe without a significant risk of addiction.

Alongside a misleading marketing strategy, J&J, with other drug makers, funded professional organisations and groups including the American Pain Society to help reassure health care professionals that opioids were safe and effective. As a result, these groups advocated for increased treatment of chronic pain, with a firm focus on opioid treatments.

Oklahoma had also sued Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, but both these companies agreed to settle out of court (for $85m and $270m respectively). Purdue, the privately held maker of opioid drug OxyContin, has taken the brunt of the blame for the crisis, but J&J ended up as the sole defendant in the seven-week trial.

J&J has said that it will appeal the judgement in Oklahoma, and in a statement said that it is “confident it has strong grounds to appeal this decision”. The pharma company also said that “the state's claims violate fundamental principles of due process by seeking to hold a company liable for conduct permitted under federal law and regulations.”

The case will have been closely followed by other opioid manufacturers, who are facing more than 2,000 similar lawsuits across the US. The first federal opioid trial is set to begin in two months. The ruling has been met with positive responses across the US, with many seeing it as a step forward in achieving accountability for the opioid crisis, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives over the past two decades.

J&J is currently fighting a number of high stakes court cases based on safety claims against its products. One example is an ongoing battle over whether or not its Baby Powder product contained asbestos, where it is facing thousands of claims, including a class action of claimants saying it caused their ovarian cancer.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

27th August 2019

From: Regulatory



Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
Aptus Health

Aptus Health is dedicated to advancing health engagement. The company offers end-to-end digital health engagement solutions spanning all areas of...

Latest intelligence

Environment: where does the pharmaceutical industry stand?
The communication challenge of helping he next generation to be healthier
As the pressure on the health service increases the health of the next generation is vital for everyone. How do we show positive attitudes and change behaviour while future proofing...
Are we losing sight of what the democratisation of healthcare really looks like?
We have a core responsibility as healthcare communicators to consistently drive for better inclusion, engagement and compliance. What does the ‘democratisation of healthcare’ really look like?...