With the power of the Trump Administration targeting drug-pushing Big Pharma, an Oklahoma-based opioid lawsuit could send shock waves through the industry.
On Monday, June 24, a judge signed off on an $85 million settlement against Israeli-owned opioid maker Teva Pharmaceuticals. Under the agreement with state officials, the drug manufacturer would not admit wrongdoing, although the state has been rocked by escalating opioid addiction.
“The resources and terms of the agreement will help abate the ongoing crisis the state is facing, help prevent doctors and Oklahomans from being misled by marketing materials and provides law enforcement with another investigative tool to help us shut down pill mills and illicit enterprises,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter reportedly said.
The deal provides $13 million to outsourced litigators on the case with the remaining funds being used by Oklahoma to combat the crisis. A.G. Hunter delivered a $270 million opioid settlement against Purdue Pharmaceuticals in May. The agreement provided $12 million to aid local communities and $200 million to found the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. Although the governor and state lawmakers were unhappy with the use of the fund, A.G. Hunter now has Big Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson in his crosshairs.
In recent weeks, attorneys have blasted Johnson & Johnson’s family-oriented image best know for baby powder and Band-Aid. A multi-media courtroom presentation shows insider memos from the drug-maker tanking concerns about opioid addiction. Callous remarks have been made about the people who don’t die from their painkillers probably not becoming addicts. Other internal correspondents show marketing schemes to target who the outfit saw as the most vulnerable demographic: men under 40.
“Those messages about risk were neglected and de-emphasized,” pain specialist Dr. Russell Portenoy reportedly testified. “I think the purpose of doing that was to improve the sales of their products.”
Reports coming from the fierce civil litigation paint Johnson & Johnson attorneys as unable to explain away gross mischaracterizations about their products’ addictive and dangerous nature. For the claims that data was manipulated to get more people using opioids, the pharmaceutical giant appears to have no answer.
The Oklahoma attorney general has mounted a case against Johnson & Johnson that the company perpetuated a phony narrative to push opioids on people who did not need them for pain relief. The pharmaceutical giant reportedly went as far as to fund organizations like the American Pain Society to push pro-opioid propaganda. It’s a telling story that bears a striking resemblance to Big Tobacco claiming cigarettes don’t cause cancer. Like Big Tobacco, these marketing strategies helped build opioids into a multi-billion-dollar industry.
What’s pivotal about the Johnson & Johnson lawsuit is that the organization is considered among the largest and most active in the opioid industry. Leading witnesses who gave testimony, such as Dr. Andrew Kolodny, previously claimed ignorance about Johnson & Johnson’s involvement in the opioid crisis. As recently as April, Kolodny was critical of President Donald Trump’s attack on opioid addiction.
“When President Trump designated the problem a public health emergency, something bizarre came out of that,” Dr. Kolodny said. “He gets up and states the U.S. is dealing with an emergency, then offers no plan for what we are going to do about this emergency. It’s like pointing to a burning building, saying there is an emergency, then not calling the fire department.”
These days, the doctor finds himself in court answering pointed questions. He’s also admitting that the Johnson & Johnson case could upend the entire opioid-pushing industry.
“I think it’s fair to characterize Johnson & Johnson as a kingpin in our opioid crisis,” he reportedly said.
The case is reportedly being monitored by upwards of 2,000 drug manufacturers and businesses in the supply chain. That includes pain clinics and physicians accused of over-prescribing drugs.
“If the judge decides to rule that Johnson & Johnson is not liable in Oklahoma because of the facts in Oklahoma, then I think they’re going to have to replicate that result in 49 other states and in at least 1,900 other governmental entity cases. If, on the other hand, the judge does find liability against Johnson & Johnson, despite the fact that they claim their market share was so small, you would think that that would have reverberations across the industry,” attorney Paul Farrell reportedly said.
The president has vowed to “never stop until our job is done” on the opioid crisis. If Johnson & Johnson falls, Big Pharma could come down like a house of cards.