Judge says he miscalculated award by $107M in opioid case

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
11/02/2019 10:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – An Oklahoma judge on Oct. 15 acknowledged making a nearly $107 million miscalculation in determining how much drug maker Johnson & Johnson must pay the state to help address the state’s opioid crisis.

Following a hearing in Cleveland County, District Judge Thad Balkman acknowledged making the error in his August judgment in which he ordered the consumer products giant to pay the state $572 million to address the opioid crisis. Balkman said the actual amount he should have included in his judgment was $107,000 to help the state develop a program for treating babies born addicted to opioids.

“That will be the last time I use that calculator,” the judge jokingly told attorneys at the end of the hearing.

Balkman said the correction will be reflected in a final order that he issues at a later date.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter declined to comment on the judge’s decision, saying it would be inappropriate to do so while the judge was still working on the final order.

The company also sought a reduction in the judgment based on pre-trial settlements totaling $355 million that the state reached with Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma and Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Attorneys for Oklahoma, however, argued that the $572 million judgment covered only the first year of the state’s estimated cost of abating the opioid crisis and that the judge should make clear that he could order the company to pay more in the future.

“We’ll take one year. But the evidence showed it will take more than that,” attorney Brad Beckworth told the judge. “This (opioid crisis) has been going on for more than a decade, and it’s gotten worse.”

Attorneys for the state have argued abating the crisis would cost between $12.6 billion for 20 years and $17.5 billion over 30 years. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said that estimate is wildly inflated.

Following a seven-week trial this summer, Balkman ruled Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the opioid crisis with an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.

During the trial, Hunter called Johnson & Johnson a “kingpin” company that was motivated by greed and noted that two of the company’s subsidiaries produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs.

Attorneys for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight during every step of the supply chain. Lawyers for the company have said the judgment was a misapplication of public nuisance law and previously filed an appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Oklahoma’s case against opioid drug makers is being closely watched because it was the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over more than 2,000 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

The Cherokee Nation in 2017 filed suit against McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., charging them with failing to prevent the flow of illegally prescribed opioids to people in the CN. The tribal lawsuit argues that pharmacy chains as well as giant drug distributors flouted federal drug-monitoring laws and allowed prescription opioids to pour into the Cherokee territory in northeastern Oklahoma at some of the highest rates in the country.

The case was later moved to a federal court in eastern Oklahoma.

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