While some Johnson & Johnson investors were relieved that the company's $572 million penalty for fueling Oklahoma's opioid epidemic wasn't as high as feared, lawyers for other U.S. states, cities and counties could hardly contain their glee.

That's because the ruling by Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman on Monday was the first affirmation in court of a high-risk legal strategy using public-nuisance laws to punish predatory drug marketing. More than 45 other states and 2,000 local governments are hoping to win billions of dollars in verdicts with the same arguments.

"Since all the other states and governments want to use their nuisance statutes against the opioid-makers and distributors, it's not good news for the companies that this judge found it was a valid theory," said Richard Ausness, a University of Kentucky law professor who teaches about product liability.