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Oklahoma's $572M Opioid Judgment Sets Tone for Future Litigation of U.S. Opioid Crisis


For the first time in U.S. history, a state judge in Oklahoma ruled an opioid maker was partly responsible for igniting a devastating opioid crisis that contributed to rising overdose rates and an estimated 130 deaths per day.

About the Case: America’s First Major Verdict Against Opioid Makers

On Monday August 26, 2019, Judge Thad Balkman ordered multinational conglomerate and drug maker Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in damages to the state of Oklahoma, which reportedly lost over 6,000 people to America’s opioid epidemic since the year 2000.

As Balkman affirms in his written opinion, the state successfully made its case in an 8-week trial that J&J “engaged in false and misleading marketing” of opioids, and that its conduct was “more than enough” to establish the first element of the state’s public nuisance law. He further states:

“Defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.”

Though the lawsuit initially sought $17 billion to cover a 30-year abatement plan that would pay for addiction treatment and education programs, support groups, and treatment for babies exposed to opioids, Balkman found the state was unable to sufficiently prove the time and costs to abate the opioid crisis beyond a year, and thus issued a judgment reflecting only one year’s worth of estimated expenses.

In addition to the $572 million to be paid by J&J, other pharmaceutical manufacturers initially named as defendants settled prior to trial – including OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma (which paid $270 to Oklahoma to settle in March) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (which settled for $85M just before trial).

The Future of Opioid Litigation: Domina Law to Continue the Fight

The decision is being viewed as a landmark in the ongoing opioid litigation, now comprised of thousands of lawsuits from local, state, and tribal governments devastated by the U.S. opioid crisis – including Native American tribes represented by Domina Law Group. The ruling could very well shape future negotiations for pending lawsuits, and set the tone for what’s needed when fighting at trial for substantial sums that will fund abatement plans.

In the wake of this important ruling, Domina Law intends to continue the fight on behalf of Native American tribes and others across Nebraska and the U.S. who have suffered as a result of America’s unprecedented opioid epidemic – which costs over $500 billion per year in lost productivity and expenses absorbed by taxpayers for strains placed upon law enforcement and the courts, emergency responders and health care providers, treatment centers, child care, and more.

As important as pending claims are to providing affected communities with a voice, they are also crucial to exposing how Big Pharma profited at the expense of people – including the providers and patients to whom they woefully understated risks associated with their opioid medications.

The time for Big Pharma’s reckoning has come, and with the first federal trial involving two Ohio counties set for late October, as well as other state and federal trials that may begin next year, we are hopeful the new ruling sparks renewed vigor among the nation’s opioid advocacy and awareness efforts.

If you have questions about the opioid litigation, or wish to discuss a potential claim involving opioid / opiate addiction, neonatal abstinence syndrome, or tribal governments, call (888) 387-4134 or contact Domina Law online.

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