By Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – An Oklahoma judge on Friday said Johnson & Johnson must pay that state $465 million for fueling the opioid epidemic through the deceptive marketing of painkillers, down from his original award of $572 million.
The decision by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman in Norman, Oklahoma, came in the first case to go to trial out of 2,700 nationally by states, counties and cities seeking to hold drug companies responsible for the deadly epidemic.
Balkman reduced the amount he had awarded in August by $107 million after agreeing with New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J that he had made a math error.
J&J said it will appeal, and that the award and finding of liability were “neither supported by the facts nor the law.”
A spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that office is reviewing the decision and will formally respond within the next few days.
Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Following a non-jury trial, Balkman ruled in August that Oklahoma had proven that J&J engaged in misleading marketing about the benefits of painkillers, and that their addictive risks caused a public nuisance in the form of the opioid crisis.
Hunter had sought to have J&J pay $17 billion to help fund addiction treatment and other services to repair damage from the opioid epidemic over the next 30 years.
Balkman, however, awarded only enough money for one year of programs, saying Oklahoma failed to support its claims regarding the need to abate the epidemic in future years.
Following the August ruling, Oklahoma asked Balkman for permission to return to his courtroom annually to prove those costs, but Balkman on Friday maintained his prior ruling.
J&J, meanwhile, argued that it deserved a $355 million credit, reflecting pre-trial settlements by the drugmakers Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
Balkman concluded on Friday that state law did not allow such credits.
Last month, J&J and four other companies proposed a $48 billion settlement framework to resolve all of the opioid cases they face, with J&J paying $4 billion. Lawyers for the local governments have opposed the proposal.
If approved, the settlement would let J&J resolve some of the thousands of product liability lawsuits it faces. The company also faces litigation over whether its baby powder causes cancer, a claim it denies.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Jonathan Stempel in New York; additional reporting by Tom Hals Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)