Today’s verdict by Judge Thad Balkman that Johnson & Johnson must pay the operating costs of Oklahoma state government as penance for the opioid crisis puts manufacturers of all lawful, but politically unpopular, products at risk.

The lawsuit brought by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sought billions in damages from the producers of federally regulated prescription opioids. Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals settled with the state without admitting wrongdoing prior to trial. 

The epidemic of opioid abuse is a serious public health issue that requires complex and interdisciplinary public policy solutions. Unfortunately, Judge Balkman’s decision punishes the makers of valuable prescription medicines and does little to solve this complex public health problem.

Judges should not be allowed to regulate the distribution of federally-controlled medicines outside of the normal regulatory process or to redistribute wealth from the private sector to the public sector for the purpose of funding government spending. That is, quite simply, an abuse of the system of the American justice. 

Sadly, most people today know of someone who has grappled with opioid addiction. But lawsuits brought by publicity-seeking politicians won’t solve the problem. The verdict is a victory for taxation by litigation, but it is consumers who will pay the price in the form of higher prices and reduced access to pain medications for patients who need them.