By Jessica Moran
Just last year, Johnson and Johnson (J&J) had to pay women across the country a total of 4.7 billion dollars for damages caused by their talcum powder, those being various cases of ovarian cancer. Again, J&J finds themselves in a similar situation, except this time for their role in the opioid epidemic. Since the 1980s, J&J has been producing a popular product, Tylenol with codeine. By the height of the opioid epidemic in 2015, J&J was the largest supplier of painkillers in the United States. They even created one of the painkilling components in OxyContin, which caused over 15,000 deaths in 2015 alone. Because of J&J’s apparent connection to the opioid crisis, representatives of the company found themselves in court on Monday, August 26th for the final time after a 7-week long trial. Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter, held them responsible for over 6,000 deaths in the state.
Hunter claimed that J&J, in their marketing to various doctors, was disingenuous in their representation of the risks of opioids. Going into the court appearance, Hunter wanted J&J to pay more than $17 billion to provide funds for addiction treatment and prevention throughout Oklahoma. While J&J denied any wrongdoing and defended themselves by saying that Duragesic and Nucynta, its marketed painkillers, were regulated and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, victims and prosecutors disagreed. Hunter made it clear that the company did not act ethically in its practice stating that J&J rushed to produce a profitable pill while ignoring the mounds of scientific research that proved opioids to be extremely addictive. In his explanation, Hunter said that J&J “embarked on a…multibillion-dollar brainwashing campaign to establish opioid analgesics as the magic drug.” He went on to say, “…money can make…businesses do bad things.” J&J continued to deny these claims and said their marketing and scientific practices were all “appropriate and responsible.”
At the end of the lengthy, grueling 7-week trial, the Oklahoma judge, Judge Balkman, ruled that J&J should be held responsible. J&J now owes $572 million to the state. Judge Balkman emphasized their unethical practices—coaching sales representatives to avoid the addiction topic, encouraging doctors to prescribe opiates for patients with only moderate pain levels, and steering clear of the issues of dependency. To highlight another one, J&J was aware that the volume of their sales did not match the state’s population data. According to the New York Times, there were 326 million pills dispensed throughout Oklahoma in 2015, and that was enough for every single adult in the state to receive 110 pills.
Now, after J&J raked in $80 billion in revenue in 2018, it is hard not to wonder whether their executives are regretting the dishonest and unethical practices that Judge Balkman and attorney Hunter made clear. This decision is just another one that can permanently tarnish their reputation. David Vinjamuri, a former employee of J&J, said to the New York Times, “…the systematic competitive advantage Johnson and Johnson got from its reputation has eroded. Brand equity is a reservoir that floats you until it’s dry.” Undoubtedly, J&J’s public perception continues to decline, and the opioid trial might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Will J&J no longer be the company trusted by parents, physicians, and nurses?
Contact Jess at email@example.com