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Oklahoma Supreme Court reverses $465 million opioid verdict against Johnson & Johnson

An arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen, also known as Percocet, in New York. A new report finds a link between workforce participation and the prescription rate of opioids in the U.S.
Patrick Sison

After an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday, the state will lose some - but not all - of the money it secured suing opioid manufacturers.

Under Attorney General Mike Hunter, Oklahoma sued a spate of opioid makers, arguing that their practices created the opioid epidemic, and that in addition to pain and suffering, that epidemic cost the state billions to address.

Several of the drug makers, including Purdue Pharma, settled before that case went before a judge. Those companies agreed to pay the state hundreds of millions. Johnson & Johnson refused to settle. In 2019, a Cleveland County judge found the company liable and ordered it to pay $465 million.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court sided with Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday. The state prosecuted the company for public nuisance, which is usually meant more literally — like blaring music. The state supreme court said the law wasn’t applied correctly.

Because Johnson & Johnson’s payout was still tied up in the lawsuit, it was never added to the state budget. Tuesday’s ruling does not affect the settlement money from the other drugmakers, which has been added to the state’s budget.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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