Over 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdoses every day. A landmark decision on Monday has held at least one company responsible for this epidemic. According to an Oklahoma judge, Johnson & Johnson “caused an opioid crisis that’s evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome.” The company was ordered to pay $572 million and was found to have repeatedly downplayed the risks of addiction to opioids. According to the ruling, Johnson & Johnson trained their sales representatives to tell doctors that the risk of addiction was 2.6% or lower when the drugs were prescribed by a medical professional.
The $572 million decision, designed to cover one year of state efforts to combat the opioid crisis, is the first ruling in the United states to hold a drug maker accountable. The implications are groundbreaking for other states and communities trying to hold companies responsible for fueling the epidemic. With statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) citing over 400,000 opioid-related deaths from 1999 to 2017, it’s not hard to imagine how many lawsuits are waiting in the wings. In fact, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma (the manufacturers of OxyContin), and other opioid manufacturers are already facing about 1,900 pending cases.
In addition to casualties that upended lives, the opioid epidemic has created over $17 billion of costs towards the state and created what Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has called a “public nuisance.” Not only did Johnson & Johnson downplay the risk of opioids as early as the 1990s, but the company also inundated the market with an oversupply of addictive painkillers through their aggressive marketing toward doctors. Hunter asserts that Johnson & Johnson ignored decades of scientific research that showed the dangers of opioids and rushed the production of “a magic pill” in order to obtain quick profits.
Some of the case’s most emotional testimonies came from victims of the epidemic. For example, the father of a young athlete spoke about losing his son, who was a college football star, to an opioid overdose.
Too often, victims of opioid addiction are blamed for their illness. This case shows that many other factors are at play, including the greed of big corporations.
Nevertheless, you should not let yourself become a statistic.