- An Oklahoma judge admitted he made a $107 million miscalculation on the $572 million Johnson & Johnson fine that the company was ordered to pay the state in August.
- The ruling, citing deceptive practices in Johnson & Johnson’s opioid marketing, was the first time a judge held a pharmaceutical company responsible for the opioid crisis.
- Johnson & Johnson is now instead expected to pay $465 million because the judge accidentally added three zeros to a provision that required it to help the state develop a program for treating babies born with conditions related to drug dependencies.
- Johnson & Johnson has been working to lower or eradicate the fine and appealed the decision in September with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, calling the ruling an unprecedented interpretation of state law.
Judge Miscalculated Payment
An Oklahoma judge admitted to making a $107 million mistake on Tuesday, after having previously fined Johnson & Johnson $572 million for its role in worsening the opioid crisis.
On Aug. 26, Judge Thad Balkman concluded that Johnson & Johnson’s deceptive practices led to higher rates of addiction and overdose. The lawsuit was the first instance where a judge held a pharmaceutical company responsible for the opioid crisis.
Balkman met with both the state and Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday to discuss the company’s payment. Prior to the meeting, Johnson & Johnson attorneys submitted a filing that alleged a figure of $107,683,000 had been miscalculated.
“No evidence supports this higher amount, which appears simply to reflect a mistaken addition of three zeros to the calculation of the annual average,” the filing states, “yet the state’s proposed judgment fails to account for this discrepancy.”
The payment concerned a provision to help the state develop a program for treating babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that could arise if babies are born with drug dependencies because their mothers were taking opioid while pregnant.
Balkman then agreed with Johnson & Johnson, realizing the payment should have been $107,683. This new correction would essentially lower the fine to $465 million, but Balkman hasn’t issued his final order, so that number could still change.
“I acknowledge the computing error contained in my August 26th judgment, Balkman said. That will be the last time I use that calculator.”
Balkman handed down his decision after a seven-week trial stemming from a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma.
While Johnson & Johnson is widely known for manufacturing products like shampoo and lotion, it also deals in pharmaceuticals. In fact, the company has a huge stake in manufacturing opioids, with many of the raw ingredients used in other companies’ opioid products coming from Johnson & Johnson.
During the trial, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter argued more than 4,500 people in the state died from opioid overdoses between 2007 and 2017.
The lawsuit was argued on the basis that Johnson & Johnson violated public nuisance laws, which generally pertain to property disputes but are broad and can be applied to health issues. Following Balkman’s ruling, many hailed the case as a landmark decision and predicted that it would set a precedent for future cases against other major pharmaceutical companies.
While Balkman originally ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million, Oklahoma had asked for $17.5 billion as part of a 30-year plan to cover a number of services—including treatment for victims, emergency care, law enforcement, social services, and other addiction-related needs
Balkman, however, said the state hadn’t provided “sufficient evidence” for costs past the first year.
What’s Next for Johnson & Johnson?
Johnson & Johnson is continuing to fight to lower and even eradicate their fine. In September, the company filed an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing that the ruling was an unprecedented interpretation of state law.
Until Johnson & Johnson knows if that appeal will be heard, however, it has focused its efforts on reducing its court-ordered payout to $355 million. That payment would reflect two settlements reached by both Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma who were also originally named in the same Oklahoma lawsuit.
The push for a smaller fine also comes as Balkman decides whether the court will continue to monitor the opioid crisis in Oklahoma and whether he could potentially require Johnson & Johnson to shell out more money over the next 20 years.
“The evidence isn’t that one year is enough,” an attorney for the state argued. “We’ll take one year, but it’s going to take more than that.”
And all of this comes as another major opioid lawsuit began selecting its jury in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday.
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated
The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors
More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.
The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.
While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11.
An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.
In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.
Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.
Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People
Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.
But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.
In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.
While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.
According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.
Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.
Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.
For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.