Oklahoma Supreme Court overturns landmark opioid epidemic ruling against J&J

In 2019 a district judge ruled that J&J was responsible for exacerbating the opioid epidemic, ordering the company to pay $465 million for violating the state's "public nuisance law."
Johnson & Johnson

Oklahoma's Supreme Court overturned a landmark ruling against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday, finding that state law was incorrectly applied during the 2019 historic opioid epidemic trial.

According to the Washington Post, in a 5-1 decision the justices overturned the $465 million judgment in which Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay for its involvement in exacerbating the opioid epidemic. 

In the ruling, the court says the company can't be held liable for the opioid epidemic under the state's public nuisance law, and that it "has no control of its products" once the drugs were sold and distributed to pharmacies and doctors offices. 

"We hold that the district court's expansion of public nuisance law went too far," Justice James Winchester wrote for the majority. "Oklahoma public nuisance law does not extend to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of prescription opioids."

"In reaching this decision, we do not minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of Oklahoma citizens have suffered because of opioids. However grave the problem of opioid addiction is in Oklahoma, public nuisance does not provide a remedy for this harm."

The pharmaceutical company applauded the state supreme court's ruling in a statement, saying they did nothing wrong in relation to their marketing tactics and campaigns.

"The Court appropriately and categorically rejected the misguided and unprecedented expansion of the public nuisance law as a means to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and sale of products, including the Company’s prescription opioid medications," the statement reads. 

In 2019 District Court Judge Thad Balkman ruled that J&J violated the state's public nuisance law by engaging in "false, misleading and dangerous marking campaigns which resulted in the exponentially increasing rates of addiction and overdose deaths." 

"Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans," Balkman wrote in his ruling.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor told CNN that he was extremely "disappointed" by the court's reversal and that he and his staff are "exploring other options."

"We are still pursuing our other pending claims against opioid distributors who have flooded our communities with these highly addictive drugs for decades. Oklahomans deserve nothing less."