Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman ruled Johnson & Johnson created an opioid crisis in Oklahoma by running a misleading marketing campaign and now must pay $572 million to the state.
Thank goodness for appeals.
The case against Johnson & Johnson, which supplies drug manufacturers with about 60% of the product that goes into the making of opioids, is about as flimsy as the cloth on Balkman’s robe.
Here’s part of what he wrote: “[Johnson & Johnson] engaged in false and misleading marketing of both their drugs and opioids generally, and the law makes clear that such conduct is more than enough to serve as the act or omission necessary to establish the first element of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law.”
Here’s another part of what he wrote: “The defendant caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome, in Oklahoma.”
So Johnson & Johnson forced opioid users to misuse and abuse the drug?
That’s in essence what this ruling says. And if that’s the case, well then, there are a whole lot of beer companies out there that ought to be feeling pretty nervous about now. Whiskey makers, too.
After all, if the maker of a legally prescribed painkiller is to be held accountable for any addictions that come, then by logical extension, the makers of legally sold alcoholic products have to be held accountable for the drinking habits of their buyers.
Alcoholic? Blame Budweiser.
Blame Budweiser’s cute-and-catchy marketing campaigns. They’re public nuisances; they’re public dangers. They should pay some sort of multimillion dollar punishment fee to the states, too.
Maybe that’ll be next on Oklahoma’s shake-down list, after wrapping this opioid deal. The state has already settled with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for $270 million and with Teva Pharmaceuticals, a leader in the generic prescription pill field, for $85 million. After Johnson & Johnson coughs up, where to go next — right?
Attorneys around the nation who’ve been watching this Oklahoma v. Johnson & Johnson fiasco unfold are cheering because they think they’ve got the golden ticket — precedence — to sue for the same in their respective states.
But consumers should be downcast.
Americans should be shaking their heads in outrage and shock.
Opioid addiction is no joke, that’s true. But the fact is, for the vast majority of opioid users, the medicine is just that — medicinal. It’s a treatment for pain and it’s a treatment of the type of pain that nothing else treats well.
This ruling makes opioid makers more wary.
It makes doctors, particularly pain doctors, more cautious.
It makes pharmacies more nervous.
And in the end, that’s not a good thing for patients. That’s not a good thing for those planning wisdom teeth surgery, or for those suffering from a broken bone, or for those with any number of major medical procedures and conditions that bring the type of pain that opioids, and only opioids, can best alleviate.
But what it’s really not good for is the fate of American society because it takes a culture of individual responsibility and turns it ‘round and ‘round, until it’s all about somebody else’s fault.
Addicts are addicts because they fail to take control of their own lives and assume responsibility for their own actions.
Thanks to this judge, they now have yet one more source to blame. And guess what: This ruling still won’t stop the addictions.
But my, Oklahoma sure will have fun spending that money.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.