- In a landmark decision, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma for deceptive opioid marketing and for significantly contributing to the opioid crisis.
- This is the first legal battle a pharmaceutical company has lost in relation to the opioid crisis, though attorneys for Johnson & Johnson say they will appeal the decision with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
- Monday’s decision could provide a precedent for future cases against companies manufacturing opioids, including a consolidated case of nearly 2,000 lawsuits that is set to be heard by a federal judge in Ohio this October.
Johnson & Johnson Loses Lawsuit
Johnson & Johnson became the first pharmaceutical company to lose a legal battle concerning accountability in relation to the opioid crisis after a judge slapped the company with a $572 million bill on Monday.
The case, part of a lawsuit filed by the state of Oklahoma, accused Johnson & Johnson of deceptive marketing that led, in part, to the opioid crisis the nation faces today. Judge Thad Balkman, who presided over the case, sided with the state in his opinion and found that Johnson & Johnson’s practices lead to higher rates of addiction and overdose.
“Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans,” Balkman said while announcing his decision in court. “Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.”
“[Johnson & Johnson] promoted their specific opioids using misleading marketing,” Balkman wrote in his opinion. “Among other things, they sent sales representatives in Oklahoma doctors’ offices to deliver misleading messages, they disseminated misleading pamphlets, coupons, and other printed materials for patients and doctors, and they misleadingly advertised their drugs over the internet.”
While the state had asked for $17.5 billion, Judge Balkman said the state had not provided “sufficient evidence” of costs past the first year of a 30-year plan to cover a wide range of services. That plan includes treatment for victims, emergency care, law enforcement, social services, and other addiction-related needs.
Nonetheless, in a press conference immediately following the verdict, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called the decision a “great triumph” for the state.
“What we showed during our seven-week trial and what Judge Balkman confirmed today is what we know now for certain,” Hunter said. “Johnson & Johnson was the kingpin behind the nation’s opioid crisis.”
Meanwhile, an attorney representing Johnson & Johnson blasted the ruling and said the company will appeal the decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
“Today’s decision represents a radical departure from more than a century of case law in this state,” attorney Sabrina Strong said on Monday.
The case, which began in May, had also accused Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma of similar practices, but the companies reached settlement agreements of $85 million and $270 million, respectively, before the trial began.
“Public Nuisance” Laws
The trial was argued under the basis of Oklahoma public nuisance laws, which has never been done against a pharmaceutical company. Generally, public nuisance laws pertain to property disputes, though the laws are broad in Oklahoma and can be applied to health-related issues, as well.
During the trial, the state argued Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance by spreading false information to everyone from the public to doctors prescribing medicine, fueling the opioid crisis. Part of that included advertising the drugs as “safe and effective,” essentially downplaying the drugs’ addictive qualities.
It also accused Johnson & Johnson of refining a highly-addictive opioid poppy, the raw products of which were later sold to other opioid manufacturers. In fact, through this mechanism, Johnson & Johnson supplies 60 percent of the opioid ingredients used by major opioid manufacturers.
The state also pointed to a wide range of statistics, notably, contending that more than 6,000 Oklahomans have died since 2000 because of opioid-related illnesses. The state also claimed that by 2017, pharmacies were filling an average of 479 opioid prescriptions an hour.
On the defendant side, lawyers for Johnson & Johnson denied any misleading advertising. They also testified that the company shouldn’t be held liable, arguing the opioids were supplied legally and were tightly regulated by the FDA.
“No Oklahoma court has ever done what this court has done today in applying public nuisance law to any commercial activity, let alone the highly-regulated area of prescription medicines,” Strong said. “The decision violates well-established constitutional principles, including due process of law.”
Lawyers also argued that the company only directly sold a relatively small amount of opioids, amounting to about 1% of all opioids sold in the country.
What This Decision Means for Similar Cases
Because of the nature of the case, it is being hailed as a landmark decision, and many believe it could set a precedent for upcoming cases. Not only is Johnson & Johnson being held accountable for the opioid epidemic, but it was also the first pharmaceutical company to have lost in a public nuisance lawsuit.
In October, a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio will oversee another major lawsuit, this one involving nearly 2,000 cases consolidated under one umbrella. If the plaintiffs are successful, that case could potentially pave the way for more lawsuits in 2020.
In 2017, the White House Council of Economic Advisers published an analysis attributing a cost of $504 billion to the opioid epidemic. Plaintiffs hope these lawsuits can recover those costs to pay for the destruction caused by the opioid crisis.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CBS News) (KOCO)
All U.S. Adults Officially Eligible for COVID Vaccine
- As of Monday, every adult in the U.S. who would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can get one.
- According to the CDC, more than 131 million people, roughly half of all American adults, have already gotten at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
- The U.S. is currently on pace to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June, but experts worry that herd immunity could be complicated by vaccine hesitancy and when the shots are approved for children.
- While vaccine hesitancy has decreased in recent months, it is still alarmingly high in some areas. Meanwhile, pending FDA approval, experts have said that they believe all children will not be able to be vaccinated until the first quarter of 2022.
U.S. Opens Vaccine Eligibility
Adults in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico who want a COVID-19 vaccine can now get one after the last few states opened eligibility Monday, officially meeting a goal set by President Joe Biden.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 131 million people — half of all American adults — have already received at least one shot. Around 84.3 million, or about a quarter of the population, is now fully vaccinated.
The open eligibility deadline, which was initially set for May 1, comes as the vaccination rate has risen substantially in the last few months after a slow initial rollout. This month, the CDC said the U.S. has been administering an average of 3.2 million doses every day, up from around 2.5 million last month.
At the current rate, the country is also on track to meet another accelerated goal of Biden’s: administering 200 million doses by his 100th day in office — a number that was originally set at 100 million.
Right now, the U.S. is on track to vaccinate 70% of its population by mid-June.
Barriers to Herd Immunity
However, there are two major factors that will impact the country’s ability to achieve herd immunity: when the shots are approved for children and vaccine hesitancy.
Currently, 16- and 17-year-olds can receive the vaccine but only Pfizer’s version. Notably, Pfizer announced earlier this month that it applied for an emergency use authorization for children ages 12 to 15 eligible for its vaccine, and Moderna is set to release results from its trial on adolescents soon.
Experts worry the full administration could take a while, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday that he does not expect children of all ages to be eligible until the first quarter of 2022.
As far as vaccine hesitancy is concerned, polls have found that more people are willing to take the shot than before. Specifically, hesitancy has decreased in Black and Latino communities, where it was previously quite high.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey from the end of last month found that 61% of adults said they were vaccinated or wanted to be — an increase of 55% from the month before, which was largely driven by the change of interest among Black Americans.
At the same time, the poll also found that fewer than half of Republicans said they have received at least one dose or intend to get it. Additionally, a recent analysis of data in nearly every U.S. county conducted by The New York Times found that both vaccination rates and willingness were lower on average in counties that voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020.
“In more rural — and more Republican — areas, health officials said that supply is far exceeding demand,” the report noted. “And in interviews with more than two dozen state and county health officials […] most attributed low vaccination rates at least partly to hesitant conservative populations.”
Now, public health officials are also concerned that hesitancy will only get worse as officials investigate whether Johnson & Johnson’s shot is linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder. Experts have said the risk is exceedingly low, even if some connection is found, including Dr. Fauci, who said Sunday that he believes federal regulators will likely resume J&J jabs later this week after they were paused last week in all 50 states.
Still, many believe the bad press will likely spell trouble for vaccine-hesitant populations — not just for J&J but for all COVID vaccines — a fact that is especially worrisome as cases in the U.S. have spiked recently. Over the past seven days, the country has averaged 67,000 new cases a day, a significant jump from over 54,000 a month ago.
Others are more optimistic that the expanded eligibility will drive demand in states where it is low, and as a result, those numbers will drop.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him
- Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
- The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
- The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
- The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.
Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public
Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.
The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.
Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.
The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.
Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”
Renewed Backlash and Protests
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.
“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.
“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.
“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”
Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.
“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”
Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.
However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.
See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)
Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting
- Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
- The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet.
- According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
- President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”
Eight Killed in Shooting
Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.
“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”
Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified.
The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”
Gun Violence in the U.S.
This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year.
The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.
Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”
“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”
President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference.
“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.
“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter.
Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.