Stock in Johnson & Johnson has been staggering since a landmark trial got underway in Oklahoma aiming to hold the consumer health care giant accountable for its role in misleading the public about the addictive nature of its opioid painkillers and worsening the nation’s opioid epidemic. The company’s shares sank 4% – or about $20 billion in market value – as the trial began, and regained less than 1% the following day.
The case brought by Oklahoma’s Attorney General also named Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals. Purdue, makers of OxyContin, settled for $270 million in March. Teva settled for $85 million two days before the trial was slated to begin. Johnson & Johnson opted to hedge its bets and let a jury decide its fate. The trial is currently underway.
Standing trial is a gutsy move for Johnson & Johnson. For the past few years, the company has been involved in courtroom battles over whether its talcum powder products cause cancer. Last year, a St. Louis jury ordered the company to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women after finding that genital use of its Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder caused women to develop ovarian cancer.
Last month, the company was hit with a $325 million verdict in a case brought by a woman who claimed that J&J’s talc was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos, which contributed to her mesothelioma diagnosis. Mesothelioma is a rare but deadly type of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.
Johnson & Johnson’s products have been on the market for more than a century, and the company has been hit with various health scares through the years, including in 1982, when seven people died after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules (made by Johnson & Johnson) that someone had laced with cyanide. J&J ordered a nationwide recall, redesigned its packaging to prevent tampering, and recovered its public image.
But with lawsuits alleging J&J knew its talc was tainted with asbestos, and knew its opioids were addictive yet continued to market them as safe, the company’s public image is getting more difficult to mend.