HealthDay News — A previous court ruling that ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay Oklahoma $465 million for the company’s role in the opioid epidemic was tossed out by the state’s highest court on Tuesday.
In a 5-to-1 vote, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument that Johnson & Johnson violated “public nuisance” laws by overstating the benefits of its prescription opioid painkillers and minimizing the dangers, The New York Times reported.
“Oklahoma public nuisance law does not extend to the manufacturing, marketing and selling of prescription opioids,” the judges wrote in Tuesday’s majority opinion, The Times reported. The judges also gave weight to the company’s response that it had not promoted its products in recent years and had sold off one of its product lines in 2015. The judges decided that opioid manufacturers could not be held “perpetually liable” for their products.
It is not clear how the decision to overturn the 2019 ruling will affect similar cases nationwide, since most public nuisance laws are state-specific. A similar opinion by a California state judge was issued on Nov. 1, and the two rulings together could suggest that plaintiffs suing opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers could be rebuffed in future cases. Teva, Purdue, and other opioid manufacturers that were sued by Oklahoma settled their cases before the trial against Johnson & Johnson began in May 2019, and this new decision does not affect those agreements.
The decision is disappointing, but the state is “still pursuing our other pending claims against opioid distributors who have flooded our communities with these highly addictive drugs for decades,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor told The Times. In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said the Oklahoma State Supreme Court decision shows that the company’s “marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible and did not cause a public nuisance.”