Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson must pay $572m (£469m) for helping fuel the opioid crisis in a US state, a judge has ruled.
The case brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter was the first to go to trial out of thousands of lawsuits filed by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
It was alleged Johnson & Johnson’s marketing practices helped fuel the opioid epidemic by flooding the market with painkillers.
More than 400,000 Americans are estimated to have died during the last two decades due to their addiction to opioids.
Announcing his verdict, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said: “The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma.
“It must be abated immediately.”
Mr Hunter said opioid overdoses claimed the lives of more than 4,600 people in Oklahoma from 2007 to 2017 and branded Johnson & Johnson a “kingpin” company that was motivated by greed.
“Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their actions,” he added.
Johnson & Johnson said it would appeal against the verdict and seek to put payment of the award on hold during the appeal process.
Sabrina Strong, a lawyer for Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, said the companies have sympathy for those who suffer from substance abuse but called the judge’s decision “flawed”.
“You can’t sue your way out of the opioid abuse crisis,” Ms Strong said.
“Litigation is not the answer.”
The $572m (£469m) total was well below what some investors and analysts feared in what had been a $17bn lawsuit, and the firm’s shares rose 5% in extended trading following the decision.
Oklahoma had previously reached settlements with two other defendant groups – a $270m (£221m) deal with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and an $85m (£69m) settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
The US state argued the companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.
Mr Hunter specifically pointed to two former Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries, Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids, which produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs.
Lawyers for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight, including the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, during every step of the supply chain.
Source: SKY NEWS