The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a $465 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson in a lawsuit by the state alleging the drugmaker fueled the opioid epidemic through the deceptive marketing of painkillers.
The decision marked the latest setback for states and local governments pursuing lawsuits to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for a drug abuse crisis the U.S. government says led to nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over two decades.
"However grave the problem of opioid addition is in Oklahoma, public nuisance law does not provide a remedy for this harm," Justice James Winchester wrote.
New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J in a statement said it sympathized with those affected by the epidemic but that the court "appropriately and categorically rejected the misguided and unprecedented expansion of the public nuisance law."
A spokesperson for Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor did not respond to requests for comment. His office had on appeal sought $9.3 billion from J&J to fund treatment and other programs to address the epidemic.
The Oklahoma lawsuit was the first of the more than 3,300 lawsuits over the opioid crisis against pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug distributors and pharmacies to go to trial.
The trial pre-dated an agreement this year by J&J and the three largest U.S. drug distributors - McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen - to pay up to $26 billion to settle thousands of opioid-related cases against them.