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Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay over $790m for role in opioid crisis

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WASHINGTON : An Oklahoma judge ordered US health care giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay US$572 million (S$794 million) in damages for its role in fostering the state's opioid addiction crisis.

In the first civil trial of a drugmaker over an epidemic that has caused hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths, Judge Thad Balkman said prosecutors had demonstrated that J&J contributed to a "public nuisance" in its deceptive promotion of highly addictive prescription painkillers.

"Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans," he said.

According to the ruling, which also cites the company's former Janssen pharmaceutical division, the cash will go towards care for a generation of addicts, families and communities affected by the crisis.

"The defendants Janssen and Johnson & Johnson's misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance," the judgesaid.

"Specifically, (the) defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma."

J&J was the first pharmaceutical company tried over the US opioid crisis, which fuelled over 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017 alone. Prosecutors had sought US$17 billion in damages.

J&J argued that the law was being inappropriately applied and that its products had a very small role in the addiction epidemic in Oklahoma and nationally.

Judge Balkman said J&J had promoted its drugs telling doctors and patients that pain was not being treated enough and that "there was a low risk of abuse and a low danger" in the drugs themselves.

"The defendants used the phrase 'pseudoaddiction' to convince doctors that patients who exhibited signs of addiction... were not actually suffering from addiction but from the undertreatment of pain," he said in his decision. - AFP