A US jury has ruled that healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson must pay actual damages of $772,500 to the family of Michaelynn Thompson, who died in 2004 after using the firm's Duragesic painkiller patch.

The family of Ms Thompson claimed that the Duragesic patch she was using was defective, allowing a fatal dose of the active agent fentanyl to leak into her system.

But J&J is adamant that its product is safe. Said company spokesman Mark Wolfe: “We disagree with the outcome of this trial. We are evaluating our legal options,” reported the The New York Times.

Others are not so sure. The US Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation last year into the safety of pain-relieving patches that contain the narcotic fentanyl, after they were linked to the deaths of several patients.

The FDA has not specified exactly how many deaths had been linked to the patches, but The New York Times reports that around 120 people have died since Duragesic first won the green light back in 1990.