By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a $465 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit by the state alleging the drugmaker fueled the opioid epidemic through the deceptive marketing of painkillers.
The court on a 5-1 vote ruled that the state’s public nuisance law does not extend to the manufacturing, marketing and sales of prescription opioids and that a trial judge went too far in holding that it did.
J&J had no immediate comment. A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision marked the latest setback for states and local governments pursuing lawsuits seeking to hold drug companies responsible for a drug abuse crisis the U.S. government says led to nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over two decades.
The case against J&J by Oklahoma’s attorney general was the first to go to trial nationally of more than 3,000 similar cases against pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug distributors and pharmacies.
A similar trial in California pitting several large counties against J&J and three other drugmakers resulted in a judge on Nov. 1 ruling in the companies’ favor and concluding the epidemic could not be considered a public nuisance.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston,; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum)