Staff Writer, Prya Oliveira
Johnson & Johnson, a large healthcare corporation, has been found guilty in playing a role in the death of 6,100 people in Oklahoma alone. Just in case you weren’t aware, America has undergone another opioid crisis with 70,000 deaths in 2017, resulting directly from drug overdoses, and the numbers are increasing. This is the first lawsuit to hold a pharmaceutical company responsible for contributing to what people are calling the “worst drug epidemic in American history”. It’s a bit uneasy to think of a family friendly brand being the cause of such a horrible event.
Aside from producing baby shampoo and body-washes, Johnson & Johnson has a pharmaceutical brand called Janssen Pharmaceuticals that manufactured ingredients for opioids, then selling it to other companies. They also made a fentanyl patch called “Duragesic,” and if you didn’t know, fentanyl is one of the most dangerous drugs on the market right now. It is 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times more potent than heroin, even a dose smaller than a penny could kill you. Fentanyl contributed to the death of many celebrities including Prince and Mac Miller. Some people don’t know that fentanyl is in some of the pills being prescribed to them, or how addictive it is.
It is not legal legal to market products with a lie, and that is a known fact. Johnson & Johnson marketed these drugs saying it was “low risk of abuse and a low danger,” downplaying the risks of addiction and overstating the benefits of opioids to make more money. This company persuaded doctors to prescribe these strong painkillers to patients who didn’t even need them. Johnson & Johnson manipulated the public into thinking that chronic pain was going undertreated and the only solution was to increase the use of opioids. Their false marketing has quite literally caused thousands of people to die.
Oklahoma tried to sue Johnson and Johnson for $17.5 billion but settled for $572 million, which is only enough to cover for a year of the recovery plan that the state created. If they are responsible for such a huge epidemic, why have them only pay for one year of recovery? That is a question that Judge Balkman, who ruled over the case, could not answer. But if he cannot answer that, then who can? Johnson & Johnson openly ignored the federal government, who warned them about the risks of marketing things this way, and their own scientists advised them on the dangers of this drug, but they also were ignored. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said, “We have proven that Johnson & Johnson have built its billion dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of pain and suffering of innocent people.” This proves that when you’re a huge corporation it is easy to get caught up in the “greed” aspect.
This case set the precedent for other states looking to sue drug companies. 36 states have already filed against drug makers for their role in the opioid crisis, with Oklahoma winning by using the “public nuisance” law that beat Johnson & Johnson. Oklahoma also settled lawsuits against two big pharmaceutical companies called Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, winning a combined total of $335 million, and like Johnson & Johnson, still not claiming fault. Ohio has 1,500 opioid lawsuits on their hands, with their first trials set for October all thanks to the push from this lawsuit.
Although the money settled cannot bring the innocent lives that were lost to the epidemic back, Judge Balkman has a plan of recovery for Oklahoma. There is now going to be addiction treatment programs and other services like housing, employment, and mental health treatment. The company who created this crisis is now paying the treatment for the people that they have directly affected. You never really know what big corporations are doing with all that money, but it is safe to assume that things are now coming to light.