The judge’s ruling is expected by the end of August.
The trial of Johnson & Johnson came to a close on Monday (July 15). The judge’s ruling could be the first to hold a pharmaceutical company responsible for playing a significant role in fueling the opioid epidemic, NPR reported.
The company and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, was the sole defendant in the lawsuit filed by the state of Oklahoma. Prior to the trial, the state reached settlements with two other defendants named in its lawsuit: Purdue Pharma (for $270 million) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (for $85 million).
In his closing argument, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called Johnson & Johnson the “kingpin” of the opioid crisis. During the seven-week trial, state attorneys argued that the company created a “public nuisance” by causing harm to the public including injury to public health.
“What is truly unprecedented here is the conduct of these defendants on embarking on a cunning, cynical and deceitful scheme to create the need for opioids,” said Hunter.
The state’s expert witness, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, testified that the company not only practiced deceptive marketing of its opioid products, but until 2016 also benefited by manufacturing and selling raw ingredients for these drugs to other pharmaceutical companies including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
“Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers have been stealing the spotlight, but Johnson & Johnson in some ways, has been even worse,” Kolodny said.
Larry Ottaway, who defended Johnson & Johnson in the trial, argued that the company’s opioid products had just a small market share in Oklahoma compared to competitors. Ottaway further argued that the company made every effort to prevent abuse and that it was providing important medication for people living with debilitating chronic pain.
Oklahoma wants the company to pay $17.5 billion over a 30-year period to compensate the state for the public health crisis.
Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling, which is expected by the end of August, may influence the outcome of nearly 2,000 similar opioid lawsuits across the U.S. pending in federal court.
According to NBC News, both the state and Johnson & Johnson have indicated that, if they lose, they will appeal the judge’s decision.