Johnson & Johnson Fined $107M Too Much In Opioid Settlement

By Kelly Burch 10/21/19

"That's the last time I use that calculator," an Oklahoma judge said, according to CNN.

Image: 
judge about to smash calculator with gavel
He only meant to assign $107,683 for the treatment of babies.  © Rtbilder | Dreamstime.com

The judge who ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million said that he made a mathematical error that resulted in the settlement being $107 million too much. 

Bad Math

As part of the settlement, Judge Thad Balkman allotted $107,683,000 to help treat babies born dependent on opioids. However, Balkman said this week that he came to that sum by misguided math. He unintentionally added an extra three zeros. In reality, he only meant to assign $107,683 for the treatment of babies. 

"That's the last time I use that calculator," Balkman said, according to CNN.

Because of that, the landmark judgment against Johnson & Johnson will be reduced by nearly a quarter. 

Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson were the first to notice the error. 

"No evidence supports this higher amount, which appears simply to reflect a mistaken addition of three zeros to the calculation of the annual average, yet the state's proposed judgment fails to account for this discrepancy," the lawyers wrote in court paperwork. 

Drugmaker Requests Further Reduction in Payout

Johnson & Johnson also requested that Balkman reduce the amount that the company will be required to pay to account for the fact that Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries will be contributing $355 million to the state. That amount was decided on during a pretrial settlement. 

Balkman has not yet said whether he will amend the Johnson & Johnson fine because of the settlement with Purdue and Teva. However, he will reduce the fine to account for his math error. The settlement amount will be updated, but Johnson & Johnson has said that it plans to appeal the ruling regardless. 

The state of Oklahoma had asked for $17 billion in damages from Johnson & Johnson. Christopher Ruhm, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, helped the state decide how much to ask for. He said that $17 billion would have allowed Oklahoma to address the opioid epidemic over the next 30 years. 

Opioid Settlements Pale in Comparison to Big Pharma Profits

"It is a lot of money. It's also a major public health crisis," Ruhm said.

Balkman used that plan to allot $572,102,028, roughly the amount that the state asked for per year. 

"The state did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary, beyond year one, to abate the opioid crisis,” he wrote in his ruling. 

Although settlements around the opioid lawsuits can seem large, many people argue that they pale in comparison to the profits that companies made from opioids that were allegedly marketed in misleading ways. The settlement amounts are also small compared to the money that cities, counties and states spend to address the epidemic. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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