On a landmark opioid lawsuit case, a judge has ruled, that pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson must give $572million to the state of Oklahoma. Notably, this is the first-ever court ruling to hold a company responsible for the opioid crisis.
Judge Thad Balkman handed down his ruling on Monday after a two-month-long trial.
Opioids were involved in almost 400,000 overdose deaths in the US from 1999 to 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since 2000, some 6,000 people in Oklahoma have died from opioid overdoses, according to the state’s lawyers.
During Oklahoma‘s seven-week trial, lawyers for the state argued that Johnson & Johnson carried out a years-long marketing campaign that minimized the addictive painkillers’ risks and promoted their benefits.
Now, What exactly are Opioids?
Opioids are a group of drugs that range from codeine to illegal drugs like heroin.
Prescription opioids are primarily used for pain relief.
How J&J Mislead The Market?
Unbranded marketing campaigns
The judge noted how J&J sponsored medical journals and created campaigns about pain management and opioids without attaching its name to it so consumers were unaware in their vested interest. It began in the 1990s after executives watched Purdue Pharma‘s success with Oxycontin.
Throughout a doctor’s career, they would be targeted many times, at many different points, by sales reps from J&J, the judge ruled. The doctors were referred to as ‘key customers’ for the ‘pain franchise’.
Sales reps would offer them coupons to buy more of the products.
Dodging the question of addiction
When pushing their products, sales teams were told to avoid ‘the addiction ditch’. Instead, they were told to talk about how pain was being undertreated in the US.
Payments to organizations
The judge noted that J&J made a ‘number of payments’ to pain advocacy groups and other organizations including The American Academy of Pain Medicine, American Pain Society, American Pain Foundation, American Geriatrics Society, American Chronic Pain Association and more.
Ignoring warnings about Duragesic, its fentanyl patch,
The judge found that J&J ignored warnings from scientists, doctors and the FDA about how dangerous one of its products – Duragesic – was.
In 2001, they were told by their own in-house advisor that their marketing was ‘dangerous’ due to Duragesic‘s ‘lethal nature’. The company was advised that an increase in sales would surely cause an increase in abuse of and addiction of the drug. These warnings were clearly ignored.