Recently, a judge in Oklahoma ruled that Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance when it deceptively marketed its opioid painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta. He specifically stated that J&J had “caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.”
Attorneys for Oklahoma asked for $17.5 billion to help fund the state’s opioid crisis response, but the judge only ordered $572 million, funding the 20-year response program for a single year. According to the judge, this was because Oklahoma had failed to provide “sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary [to the plan], beyond year one.”
J&J denies any wrongdoing and plans to appeal the judgment. This is the first ruling to hold any pharmaceutical company liable for contributing to the opioid crisis, although other governments have filed similar cases. Approximately 2,000 such cases have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio and are referred to as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.
The Oklahoma lawsuit originally included drug maker Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, a popular opioid drug, along with generic drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals. Purdue settled the claims for $270 million, and Teva agreed to pay $85 million. Both denied any wrongdoing.
Result in the Oklahoma case prompts additional settlements
Now that one judge has ruled that drug makers may be liable for deceptive opioid marketing practices, there is increasing pressure for companies to settle the other cases.
According to an NPR source, J&J, Allergan, Endo International and Purdue are in current talks with plaintiffs’ attorneys in the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.
Purdue confirmed the talks to NPR, saying that the potential deal would resolve all pending claims against the company. Other media have reported that the Purdue deal would involve up to $12 billion in liability and a bankruptcy in which the Sackler family would surrender ownership of the company.
The deal might include an admission of wrongdoing by Purdue, and at least one state attorney general opposes any confidentiality clause that would shield the Sackler family from scrutiny.
“For years, members of the Sackler family tried to hide their role in creating and profiting off the opioid epidemic,” she said. “We owe it to families in Massachusetts and across the country to hold Purdue and the Sacklers accountable, ensure that the evidence of what they did is made public, and make them pay for the damage they have caused.”
NPR’s source also said that Endo and Allergan have already reached tentative settlements.
It is unclear who would receive the money obtained through settlements of the national litigation. Increasingly clear, however, is that pharmaceutical companies’ actions actively contributed to the opioid crisis.