Judge Balkman reduces order in opioid lawsuit by $107 million

The Associated Press - November 15, 2019 2:48 pm

District Judge Thad Balkman

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma judge who last summer ordered consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to help address the state’s opioid crisis on Friday reduced that amount by $107 million in a final order he issued in the case.

District Judge Thad Balkman’s latest order directs the company to pay the state $465 million. In it, Balkman acknowledged that he miscalculated in his original award how much it would cost to develop a program for treating babies born addicted to opioids. The cost should have been $107,000, not $107 million.

The judge declined a request by the defendants to further reduce the amount to take into account pre-trial settlements totaling $355 million the state reached with Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma and Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson said the company plans to appeal Balkman’s ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The company did not immediately respond to a request seeking further comment.

Following a seven-week trial this summer, Balkman ruled Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the opioid crisis with an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.

Attorneys for the state have argued abating the opioid crisis in Oklahoma would cost between $12.6 billion for 20 years and $17.5 billion over 30 years. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said that estimate is wildly inflated.

During the trial, Hunter called Johnson & Johnson a “kingpin” company that was motivated by greed and noted that two of the company’s subsidiaries produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs.

Attorneys for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight during every step of the supply chain. Lawyers for the company have said the judgment was a misapplication of public nuisance law.

Oklahoma’s case against opioid drugmakers is being closely watched because it was the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over more than 2,000 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

 

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