Johnson & Johnson said it had already jumped. The New York attorney general suggested they lobbied the pharmaceutical giant.
Either way, the US drugmaker is the first to formally agree to exit the multi-billion dollar business of selling the powerful narcotic pain relievers that fueled America’s opioid epidemic.
J&J made the deal, in addition to agreeing to pay a $ 230 million settlement, to avoid the first jury trial of major drug companies over the opioid crisis, which is scheduled to open in New York state on Tuesday.
The trial comes as the pharmaceutical industry faces a reckoning over what its accusers describe as cynicism and greed in creating an epidemic of addiction to prescription painkillers and illicit opioids, such as heroin, which has killed more than 600,000 people since 1999 and has caused misery to millions more. .
Ongoing trials in West Virginia and California have pressured J&J, other opioid makers, drug chains and some of the largest US drug distributors to negotiate a deal amid shocking revelations about their business practices.
A trial of drug dealers accused of illegally flooding West Virginia with opioids and generating the highest overdose rate in the country revealed that executives circulated rhymes and emails mocking “pillbillies” who became addicted to painkillers.
That trial is one of a series of landmark cases to establish whether opioid manufacturers, distributors and drug stores can pay billions to thousands of opioid-damaged counties, cities and Native American tribes. Another lawsuit, involving two Ohio counties, was settled minutes before it began with four large pharmaceutical companies agreeing to pay $ 260 million.
J&J did not admit liability in settling the New York lawsuit filed by the state and two Long Island counties. It said its “actions related to the marketing and promotion of important prescription pain relievers were appropriate and responsible.”
But the risks of going to a full trial were clear after a judge in Oklahoma ruled against the company two years ago after weeks of testimony, which revealed a pattern of disdain among employees toward the risk of addiction to painkillers. powerful and contempt for those who became hooked.
In a company memo, a representative said he dismissed a doctor’s fears that patients would become addicted by telling him that those who did not die probably would not get hooked.
Consultants hired by J&J recommended that its sales force focus on increasing sales by seeking to “target patients at high risk of abuse (eg, men under 40 years old).”
The judge ordered J&J to pay $ 465 million in restitution after discovering it was misleadingly and aggressively pushing false claims that its powerful opioid pain relievers were safer and more effective than they. It also found that the company made “substantial payments of money” to front organizations to resist prescription restrictions.
The New York case threatened more embarrassing disclosures for a company that has tried to restore its reputation after other scandals, including tainted baby powder with its anti-Covid vaccine.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that the agreement not only provides funds to repair some of the damage caused by the epidemic, but also cuts the road to addiction.
“Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire, but today they are pledging to get out of the opioid business, not just in New York, but across the country,” he said. saying.
J&J said it had already decided in 2020 to “discontinue all of its prescription pain relievers in the United States.”
If the decision was made last year, not long after Oklahoma’s ruling.
The New York trial will continue against other drug manufacturers and distributors. The state also sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, the drug credited with starting the opioid epidemic, but that has been moved to a separate bankruptcy court.
Other pharmaceutical firms will be watching closely what the jury decides, along with the verdicts in West Virginia and California, to decide whether it is worth moving forward in court or ultimately reaching a comprehensive settlement to resolve more than 3,000 cases.
One indicator of how they think the wind is blowing is that some drug manufacturers and distributors have told shareholders that they have set aside billions to settle the cases.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism