Oklahoma, USA: A judge on Monday in Oklahoma in the USA fined Johnson & Johnson which is better known for baby shampoo and Band-Aids $572 million and gave the ruling that the company should be held responsible for decades of opioid addiction and the thousands of overdose deaths in the state.
Johnson & Johnson baby products are also widely popular in Bangladesh.
The judge cited charges against the leading pharmaceutical company for overly aggressive marketing tactics: Sales representatives were coached to avoid the “addiction ditch” — the negatives associated with drug use and dependence — when encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids for patients with moderate to severe pain.
For Johnson & Johnson, which has said it plans to appeal, the decision represents another blow to its reputation as the trusted brand of parents, doctors and nurses.
Some question how long the company can weather what has been a series of damaging setbacks to its brand, including a spate of lawsuits over whether its talcum powder led to ovarian cancer and high-profile cases over other potentially flawed products, like pelvic mesh and the anti-stroke drug Xarelto, which has caused excessive bleeding.
“Johnson & Johnson is a corporation under duress on a number of fronts,” said Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, an executive at Reputation Institute, which tracks public perception of companies through regular surveys.
“It’s fair to say that the opioid trial is probably the straw that broke the camel back for Johnson & Johnson’s reputation,” he said. “We’ve not in recent years seen Johnson & Johnson’s reputation dip as low as it’s currently tracking.”
In a statement Monday, Johnson & Johnson described the judge’s decision as flawed and said Oklahoma had failed to present evidence that the company’s actions constituted a public nuisance, which was a central question of the trial. Purdue and Teva had previously settled with Oklahoma and agreed to pay the state $270 million and $85 million, respectively.
Johnson & Johnson also defended its business as an opiate supplier, saying it had followed state and federal regulations and that the subsidiaries, which it sold in 2016, played no role in the marketing or sale of finished products. Beyond its poppy business, Johnson & Johnson drugs accounted for less than 1% of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma and the United States, the company said.
Although the Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson’s behaviour violated the state’s public nuisance law, similar attempts to hold companies accountable for their harmful products have fallen short in other cases. Elizabeth Burch, a law professor at the University of Georgia, said that lawsuits using public nuisance laws had failed against gun manufacturers.
“You can draw an analogy there, mainly because once you sell a gun, it is no longer in the control of the gun manufacturers,” she said.
Andrew S Pollis, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, said pharmaceutical manufacturers may not be off the hook.
“You can have liability for manufacturing something that you know is being used to an illegal or a harmful end, or if you know the volume of your sales is upside down relative to the population,” he said. In Oklahoma, more than 326 million opioid pills were dispensed to state residents in 2015, enough for every adult in the state to receive 110 pills, according to the judge’s decision.
Some public health experts said companies should be held accountable when they supply ingredients that they should have known were causing harm.