Lawyer for the state of Oklahoma Brad Beckworth said Johnson & Johnson pushed doctors to prescribe more opioids in the 1990s. (AP: Chris Lansberger)
The State of Oklahoma is suing one of the largest drug manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson, alleging it carried out deceptive marketing campaigns for painkillers and contributed to the country’s opioid crisis.
- It’s the first case from thousands of similar lawsuits against opioid manufacturers
- A national public health institute recorded 47,600 opioid-related deaths in 2017
- Johnson & Johnson maintains its actions were lawful and heavily regulated
The state accused Johnson & Johnson of deceptively marketing highly addictive opioids for years in a way that overstated their effectiveness and underplayed the risk of addiction, and claims the company’s actions created a public nuisance that will cost at least $US13 billion ($18.8 billion) to remedy over 20 years.
Johnson & Johnson maintained it was part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry that was subject to strict federal oversight, and doctors were the ones who prescribed the drugs.
The non-jury trial is the first out of 2,000 cases brought by state and local governments against pharmaceutical companies blamed for contributing to the opioid crisis in the US.
A lawyer for the state of Oklahoma, Brad Beckworth, said Johnson & Johnson, along with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, used misleading marketing beginning in the 1990s to push doctors to prescribe more opioids.
Instead of going to trial, the state of Oklahoma reached a $US270 million ($390 million) settlement out of court with Purdue Pharma in May and settled a $US85 million ($122.7 million) lawsuit against Teva on Sunday.
The lawsuits seek to hold the companies responsible for a drug epidemic which the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said led to a record 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017.
Mr Beckworth said Johnson & Johnson sold the painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta and marketed opioids as “safe and effective for everyday pain” which created a drug oversupply.
He said Johnson & Johnson was motivated to boost prescriptions not only because it sold painkillers, but because it also grew and imported raw materials opioid manufacturers like Purdue used.
“If you have an oversupply, people will die,” Mr Beckworth said.
‘Worst man-made public health crisis’
It’s the first US state trial against a pharmaceutical company over the country’s opioid crisis. (AP: Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, who filed the multibillion-dollar case, argued in a state court that Johnson & Johnson should be forced to pay for helping cause the “worst manmade public health crisis in our state’s history.”
Johnson & Johnson’s lawyer Larry Ottaway said the company’s marketing statements did not differ from those made by the US Food and Drug Administration, which in 2009 said painkillers rarely caused addiction when properly managed.
Purdue Pharma paid $270 million to settle a previous Oklahoma lawsuit over opioid addiction. (AP: Jessica Hill)
“We’re not mocking anyone, but facts are stubborn things,” he said.
He also argued the state of Oklahoma was seeking to “stretch” the bounds of a public nuisance statute in order to force the company to pay up to $US17.5 billion ($25.3 billion) in damages.
Some plaintiffs’ lawyers have compared the cases to litigation by states against the tobacco industry that led to a $246 billion settlement in 1998.