A judge in Oklahoma has said that Johnson & Johnson must pay for the part it played in fuelling the opioid crisis. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay the state of Oklahoma $572,102,028, after prosecutors demanded more than $17 billion in payment as a result of aggressively marketing opioid drugs.

 “We showed how the company repeatedly ignored warnings by the federal governments and its own scientific advisers about the dangers of its drugs and the risks of marketing its products the way it did,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. “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.”

The case rested on Johnson & Johnson’s pharma subsidiary, Janssen’s, role in causing a ‘public nuisance’ through their efforts. This is an argument that has previously been levelled against tobacco companies but is the first within the pharmaceutical industry and thus sets a precedent for future action in keeping companies accountable for the opioid crisis. The ruling comes after Teva and Purdue Pharma settled out of court with Hunter for a total of $355 million.

Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal. “When you're right, you fight,” said Johnson & Johnson's attorney, Sabrina Strong. “We have sympathy for those who suffer from substance abuse. But Janssen did not cause the opioid crisis in this country.”