For the first time in the United States, a civil judgment sentenced a pharmaceutical company in the opiate crisis. The Johnson & Johnson (J & J) group was sentenced on Monday, August 26, to pay $ 572 million to the state of Oklahoma for its responsibility in the crisis that sullies the country. The state had asked for $ 17 billion.
After two months of trial, the judge ruled that the Janssen laboratory, a pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson, had adopted "misleading marketing and opioid promotion" practices, causing a crisis of dependency on these painkillers, deaths by overdose and an increase in neonatal abstinence syndromes in the state - that is, when a baby has been exposed to the drug during pregnancy and is born addicted to drugs.
Opiates were responsible for 47,000 overdose deaths in 2017 in the United States. "The opiate crisis ravaged the state of Oklahoma and must be contained immediately," the judge said, basing his judgment on a law against "public nuisance." The money requested from Johnson & Johnson will be used to fund programs in the state to address the crisis.
The group immediately announced that it would appeal. "Janssen did not provoke the opiate crisis in Oklahoma," said Michael Ullmann, vice president and legal director of Johnson & Johnson. J & J believes that it has complied with the law and recalls that its drugs accounted for only 1% of the opiate market.
Janssen distributes the Nucynta tablets and the Duragesic patch, which contains fentanyl, one of the most powerful synthetic opiates, that the lab has invented. Initially, the patch was prescribed to cancer patients for acute pain. But the laboratory is accused of having created demand through a major campaign among doctors, through marketing, research funding and "education" and training events.
The laboratory has over the years sought to convince them, apparently successfully, that its drugs did not create dependency. The industry "used the term" pseudo-addiction "to persuade doctors that patients who showed signs of addiction, for example by asking for higher doses of opiates or returning to the doctor before 'theoretical exhaustion of the previous order, did not really suffer from addiction, but actually under-treatment of pain,' concluded the judge. "The solution, according to the marketing of the defendants, was to prescribe more opiates to the patient," he wrote in his judgment.
Several laboratories were pursued by the state, but the others preferred to settle the case amicably, especially the group at the heart of the epidemic: Purdue Pharma, seller of the notorious Oxycontin.