OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a $ 465 million opioid ruling against pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, finding that a lower court had misinterpreted the state’s public order law.
The court ruled 5-1 that District Judge Thad Bulkman was wrong in 2019 in finding that New Jersey-based J&J and its Belgian subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals violated state disorderly conduct law.
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“The court granted the lawsuits for violation of public order to address specific local issues, and not political issues,” – says the conclusion, written by Judge James R. Winchester.
The High Court ruled that the question is whether the marketing and sale of the company’s opioids creates a public inconvenience, but that this does not minimize the suffering of thousands of Oklahoma residents from opioids.
“J&J no longer promotes any prescription opioids, and it hasn’t done so in years,” Winchester wrote. “Even with J&J’s marketing practices, these … drugs accounted for less than 1% of all opioid prescriptions in Oklahoma.”
More than 4,600 people in Oklahoma died of opioid overdose from 2007 to 2017, according to government statistics.
The court also dismissed the state’s appeal for an increase in compensation for damages.
The ruling came a week after a California judge issued a preliminary ruling saying local governments had failed to prove Johnson & Johnson had used deceptive marketing to inflate prescriptions for its painkillers, resulting in public inconvenience.
Former State Attorney General Mike Hunter’s suit in Oklahoma was the first of thousands of similar lawsuits to go to trial.
Representatives for current state attorney general John O’Connor and J&J did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Disagreeing, Judge James E. Edmondson said he would uphold the judgment but return the case to the District Court to recalculate damages.
The state asked to increase the amount of the premium to $ 9.3 billion.
Editor’s Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of the PBS NewsHour.