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Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay US$572m for its part in opioid crisis

FMCG multinational Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies has been ordered by a US judge to pay US$572 million for its part in the opioid addiction crisis in Oklahoma.

Judge Thad Balkman said that J&J has became a “public nuisance” in promoting the addictive prescription painkillers to consumers in the state.

“Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of OklahomansThe opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans,” he said in his ruling.

The company, which manufactures Duragesic, Nucynta and Nucynta Er, said in a statement following the ruling that the labels are clear on the medicines’ risks and benefits.

J&J said that the drugs accounted for less than one percent of total opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma and that it would appeal the court’s decision.

“Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome. We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need,” said Michael Ullmann, executive vice president, general counsel, Johnson & Johnson.

“This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states. The unprecedented award for the State’s ‘abatement plan’ has sweeping ramifications for many industries and bears no relation to the Company’s medicines or conduct.”

The FMCG company said due to its appeal the lawsuit may extend into 2021. J&J added that “Oklahoma does not have a binding impact on other courts”. The federal multidistrict litigation is set on October 2019.

The Oklahoma case was filed by the state’s attorney general Mike Hunter.

“Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their actions,” he said.

In May 2019, US company, SC Johnson, said its tagline was incorrectly associated with J&J at the first trial over the US opioid epidemic. SC Johnson’s SVP Kelly Semrau said the attorney general incorrectly linked a “critical part:” of the company’s trademark tagline, ‘A Family Company,’ when referencing Johnson & Johnson in the case.

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