(Reuters) - An Oklahoma judge on Monday ruled that Johnson & Johnson JNJ.N was liable for its part in fuelling the opioid epidemic and ordered the drugmaker to pay $572 million (466 million pounds) following a trial in a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general. J&J said it would appeal the decision.
The case, filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, is the first of thousands lawsuits to go to trial over claims that opioid manufacturers deceptively marketed painkillers to downplay addiction risks.
Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, some 6,000 Oklahomans have died from opioid overdoses, according to the state’s lawyers.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman in Norman, Oklahoma presided over a seven-week, non-jury trial. The company denies wrongdoing and says it marketed its products appropriately.
The following is a summary of where and how the opioid litigation is playing out across the United States:
-- The lawsuits allege drug manufacturers like J&J, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd TEVA.TA and Endo International Plc ENDP.O carried out marketing campaigns that deceptively promoted the benefits of using opioids to treat chronic, rather than short-term pain. Many of them also name as defendants wholesale drug distributors like AmerisourceBergen Corp ABC.N, McKesson Corp MCK.N and Cardinal Health Inc CAH.N, who are accused of ignoring red flags indicating the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses, such as massive numbers of pills being shipped to small communities. The suits generally seek to recover money that states and municipalities say they have spent and will incur to address drug abuse and overdoses.
-- Of the roughly 2,500 lawsuits nationally, the majority of cases - 2,000 brought primarily by municipalities and counties - are consolidated before a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio.
-- U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who oversees the federal litigation, has pushed for a global settlement, saying at a hearing in January 2018 that he wanted to "do something meaningful to abate this crisis." Such a major settlement has not been reached, prompting the judge to begin scheduling trials. The first federal trial, involving claims by two Ohio counties, begins in October. Endo and Allergan Plc AGN.N ahead of that trial reached tentative agreements to pay a combined $15 million to resolve claims against them by those counties.
-- Many other lawsuits are pending in state courts, particularly ones brought by state attorneys general like Hunter. The vast majority of these suits are against Purdue, which launched OxyContin in 1996. Many also name members of the wealthy Sackler family, which owns Purdue.
-- Hunter’s lawsuit against J&J alleges its marketing of opioids created a public nuisance that helped cause the epidemic and that the company should be required to pay for correcting, or “abating,” that problem. The state has said in court filings the potential cost could exceed $17 billion.
-- Drugmakers have denied wrongdoing, arguing their products carried U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks of opioids. They say they did not cause the damage the epidemic has had on states and localities.
-- Purdue, which has been considering filing for bankruptcy amid mounting litigation, agreed in March along with the Sacklers to a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma. The Sacklers were not named as defendants in that case and voluntarily agreed to contribute to the settlement.
-- Teva on the eve of trial agreed in May to pay $85 million to resolve Oklahoma’s claims against the company.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot
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