OKLAHOMA CITY — The state’s attorney general said Thursday he plans to appeal after a Cleveland County judge reduced the state’s opioid award by nearly $107 million.
Attorney General Mike Hunter said attorneys disagree with Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling that requires Johnson & Johnson to only pay one year of the costs to abate the public nuisance.
“We respectfully disagree with his order where it says Johnson & Johnson must only fund one year of cleaning up the public nuisance he found Johnson & Johnson created, after the company deceived and bombarded our doctors and Oklahomans with lies, leading to the deadliest manmade public health crisis in our nation’s history,” Hunter said in a statement announcing the appeal.
Balkman couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
After an eight-week trial in Norman earlier this year, Balkman found Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance by launching a misleading marketing campaign that contributed to an opioid epidemic in the state. He initially ordered the New Jersey-based company to pay $572 million to help fix the problem.
But in a final ruling last week, Balkman reduced his August verdict to $465 million. He acknowledged he miscalculated the initial award.
And though Balkman found the company at fault, the amount awarded was well short of the $17.5 billion state leaders had sought to clean up the crisis over the next 30 years. He ruled the state did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary, beyond one year, to clean up the opioid crisis going forward.
Hunter said Balkman’s one-time award directly opposed the evidence the state presented. He said the finding requires full remediation of the problem.
“It is crystal clear under Oklahoma law that once a company is found liable for causing a public nuisance, it must pay what it takes to clean it up until the nuisance is gone,” Hunter said.
Johnson & Johnson already has appealed Balkman’s ruling, arguing an “unprecedented interpretation” of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law.
The company has denied wrongdoing.
The verdict marked the conclusion of the first opioid trial in the nation.
In his ruling, Balkman noted from 2011 to 2015 more than 2,100 Oklahomans died of an accidental prescription drug overdose.
In 2015, more than 326 million opioid pills were dispensed to Oklahoma residents. That’s enough, Balkman wrote, for every Oklahoman to have 110 pills.
In March, the maker of OxyContin — Purdue Pharma — agreed to pay the state $270 million. That settlement agreement required around $200 million to be spent to create the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. Local governments shared $12.5 million, and the rest paid legal fees.
Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva also settled its opioid lawsuit with the state for $85 million.