AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Today a judge in Oklahoma revised the amount of money that opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson owes the state. The new figure is 465 million, more than a hundred million dollars less than the original order. Reporter Jackie Fortier covered the entire seven-week trial over the summer.
JACKIE FORTIER, BYLINE: Thanks, Audie.
CORNISH: Give us the background here.
FORTIER: Well, in August, Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, liable for helping fuel the state's opioid crisis. In his initial judgment, he said that the state had proven that the companies had caused a public nuisance by deceptively and aggressively marketing both their drugs and opioids in general. Initially, he ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay 572 million to pay for the health and addiction costs. But that was far less than what the state's lawyers were asking for.
CORNISH: Why would the judge turn around and say, actually, it's a hundred million dollars less? Like, why would he reduce the number?
FORTIER: Well, the judge realized he'd made a mistake. At a hearing last month, he said that he had set aside $107.6 million for one portion of the opioid treatment plan when he really meant to set aside about $107,000. So, basically, he added some extra zeros.
CORNISH: Either way, when will Oklahoma get this 465 million from Johnson & Johnson?
FORTIER: It'll probably be a while. Oklahoma probably won't see that money until after it goes through the appeals process. This case is likely to head to the state supreme court.
CORNISH: Oklahoma has already settled with other drug companies for millions of dollars. What is the state going to do with all this money?
FORTIER: You're right. Purdue Pharmaceuticals was the first to settle late last March for $270 million. The majority of that money is going to go to an opioid research center at Oklahoma State University. Generic opioid manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals also settled right before the trial. That was for a lot less - $85 million. State lawmakers will get to decide how that money is spent. It's expected to go to opioid use treatment. But even though it sounds like a lot of money, you know, the state was asking for more than $17 billion during the trial, so it's really just a drop in the bucket.
CORNISH: This is the first case to go to trial that found an opioid manufacturer liable for their role in the public health crisis. But that doesn't mean there aren't more lawsuits, right? I mean, I heard there are thousands.
FORTIER: Yeah. At the federal level, there's more than 2,500 lawsuits filed by the municipalities all over the country against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies. That's been folded into one massive federal case that's being overseen in the northern district of Ohio. That consolidated case was derailed, really, at the last minute by a settlement between the remaining defendants and the two Ohio counties. Despite that settlement, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who's overseeing that massive case - he's expected to schedule new trials next year.
CORNISH: That was Jackie Fortier, reporter with State Impact Oklahoma.
Thanks for your reporting.
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