Johnson & Johnson Reaches $20.4 Million Settlement in Bellwether Opioids Case

The drug distributors and retail pharmacy chains, however, have shown little sign of being predisposed to settle. They are continuing to press their efforts to remove Judge Polster from the case, claiming that he has shown a bias against them by openly encouraging settlement talks. Some legal experts have said that such a move, so close to the start of a trial, is highly unusual.

In a statement, the lead lawyers for the federal plaintiffs — Joe Rice, Paul J. Hanly Jr. and Paul T. Farrell Jr. — said that the Johnson & Johnson settlement brought the payment for the two Ohio counties so far to $60 million.

“We continue our preparation ahead of the October 21st trial where we plan to hold the remaining opioid makers and distributors accountable for fueling the crisis that has led to thousands of deaths in Ohio and across the country, ” they said.

As the sprawling federal opioid litigation has unfolded over 20 months, the drug manufacturers have been reported to be more inclined to settlement negotiations than the other groups of defendants. But many legal observers thought that Johnson & Johnson might continue to fight.

In the world of pharmaceutical giants, Johnson & Johnson, which had 2018 sales of $81 billion, is widely known for being more inclined to try lawsuits in court than to settle, most recently in a slew of cases in which plaintiffs alleged that its talc-based baby powder caused cancer in some consumers. When the state of Oklahoma sued drug manufacturers for its opioid crisis, Johnson & Johnson, unlike Purdue and Teva, refused to settle. Instead, it faced the state during a nearly two-month trial. In August, the Oklahoma judge who presided over the trial ordered the company to pay $572 million — a judgment that Johnson & Johnson is appealing.

Johnson & Johnson made two versions of Nucynta, an opioid tablet, which it divested in 2015, and still produces Duragesic, a fentanyl patch, which, the company notes, it has not marketed in the United States since 2008. But during the Oklahoma trial, plaintiffs’ attorneys said that the pharmaceutical giant supplied most of the nation’s opioid material to other drug manufacturers, refined by one of its companies from a variety of poppy that Johnson & Johnson developed and contracted with farmers to grow in Tasmania.