Attorneys for the state look over court documents following Judge Thad Balkman’s announcement of his decision in the Opioid Lawsuit in Norman, Okla., Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Balkman found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid drug crisis and ordered the consumer products giant to pay $572 million to help abate the problem in the coming years. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Pool)

Attorneys for the state look over court documents following Judge Thad Balkman’s announcement of his decision in the Opioid Lawsuit in Norman, Okla., Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Balkman found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid drug crisis and ordered the consumer products giant to pay $572 million to help abate the problem in the coming years. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, Pool)

Oklahoma opioid ruling could pressure pharma companies to settle in B.C.: experts

Ontario and New Brunswick have announced they will participate in B.C.’s lawsuit

An Oklahoma court ruling that found Johnson & Johnson helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis and ordered the company to pay US$572 million could persuade drug manufacturers to settle a similar lawsuit in B.C., legal experts say.

The decision in the United States does not directly apply to B.C. because it found the company created a “public nuisance” under a specific state law, said Dr. Michael Curry, a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia who has a legal background.

B.C., on the other hand, filed a proposed class-action lawsuit a year ago alleging a number of pharmaceutical companies falsely marketed opioids as less addictive than other pain drugs and helped trigger an overdose crisis that has killed thousands.

ALSO READ: B.C. pleased with Oklahoma ruling in opioids case as it continues lawsuit

But Curry said the fact that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries were ordered to pay Oklahoma more than twice the amount another drug maker agreed to pay in a settlement will add pressure to companies to settle the various claims they’re facing.

“I do think it emphasizes to the pharmaceutical companies that there is going to be some accounting for or responsibility for some of their actions during the opioid crisis. I think it creates pressure from a stock market basis and also a legal basis to settle these claims,” he said.

But Curry noted that Johnson & Johnson’s stock price rose after the ruling because many investors expected the fine to be higher.

READ MORE: Fatal overdoses in B.C. drop 30% during first half of year

Attorneys for the company have maintained that they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight. The lawyers say the ruling was a misapplication of the public nuisance law and they will appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The ruling in Oklahoma followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations in about 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

Ontario and New Brunswick have announced they will participate in B.C.’s lawsuit, while Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Quebec are participating in a national working group on the case, said B.C. Attorney General David Eby on Tuesday.

Eby said the B.C. case is different because it names dozens of manufacturers and distributors, while Oklahoma named only one company after settling with others. But he said they are based on very similar facts and Johnson & Johnson is a defendant in the province’s suit.

“To have a judge say, ‘Yes, we do see a serious problem here with how this company conducted itself and we do feel that it needs to be paying money out because of the way it marketed these very addictive and harmful drugs,’ is a very positive sign for our litigation here in Canada,” he said.

A case management conference is scheduled for the fall to determine the timeline for the “complex and very dense” litigation, Eby added.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin and a defendant in B.C.’s lawsuit, has said that it followed all of Health Canada’s regulations, including those governing marketing, and it’s very concerned about the opioid crisis in B.C. and across Canada.

None of the allegations in the B.C. lawsuit have been tested in court.

READ MORE: Canadian drug makers hit with $1.1B suit for pushing opioids despite risks

READ MORE: Health Canada tightens marketing requirements for opioid prescriptions

Statements of defence from Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma could not be found on the B.C. Supreme Court website on Tuesday.

A ruling in the United States is not binding in Canadian courts, but the Oklahoma judgment and settlements suggest there is a basis to B.C.’s arguments, said Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University.

“The concern about pharmaceutical companies and the roles that they have played is a concern that goes beyond the boundary of a single jurisdiction,” Boyd said.

“The precedent of a finding that a pharmaceutical company contributed to the problem that we have seen across North America, I’m very sure that ruling has the attention of a number of pharmaceutical companies.”

— With files from The Associated Press.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cedar Valley Lodge, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the LNG Canada Project site in Kitimat. The most recent outbreak among workers at the project site was just declared over. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Second COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site declared over

The outbreak was first declared on Dec. 16, 2020

CGL has closed down the two lodges affected to everyone except the essential staff. (Black Press file photo)
All COVID-19 cases associated with Coastal GasLink outbreak deemed recovered

Outbreaks occurred at CGL project accommodation sites in Burns Lake and Nechako Local Health Areas

Prince Rupert Branch of BC SPCA has partnered with the Greater Massett Food Bank to provide pet food to guardians in need during the pandemic, Joe Griffiths manager of BC SPCA said on Jan. 6. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Greater Massett Food Bank partners with BC SPCA

Greater Masset Food Bank has recently received more than 800 kg of pet food for those in need

Northern Health said their new portal can be used by Northern B.C. patients to access various health-based information and results, including COVID-19 test results. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
New digital portal available for Northern Health patients

Northern B.C. residents can use HealtheLife to access various health-based information

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Most Read