Florida, Texas, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Massachusetts and others have their own Opioid Litigation in state courts across the country
By Mark A. York (July 15, 2019)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) The time has now arrived for Opioid Big Pharma, in all forms to face the facts that for close to 20 years they have flooded the mainstream commerce of America with massive amounts of opiates with little to no oversight, which whether caused by a catastrophic systemic failure on many levels, or simple greed, the time has now come for the opiate industry to face the music of complex litigation in state and federal court venues across the country.
What remains to be seen is where and how the directly affected “individuals” who were prescribed millions of addictive opiates and subsequently became addicted and where thousands more overdosed and died, fit in to the “opioid litigation solution” and if they will actually receive treatment services and assistance on a substantive level.
Johnson & Johnson used promotional gimmicks for its opioid painkillers that are similar to how criminal drug dealers try to boost sales, a pharmaceutical-industry critic told a judge hearing Oklahoma’s claim that the company helped fuel a crisis of addiction.
J&J’s use of coupons allowing patients to get free Duragesic pain patches was improper, said Andrew Kolodny, a Brandeis University professor and opioid researcher who testified at the trial Wednesday on behalf of the state, which says the company is liable under public-nuisance laws.
Closing arguments are underway today, July 15, 2019 in Oklahoma’s case against Johnson & Johnson alleging the consumer products giant and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis.
Each side had about two hours Monday to make their cases to Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman, who is expected to issue his ruling at a later date.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has described consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson as the “kingpin” company that helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis during closing arguments in the state’s case against the drugmaker.
Oklahoma claims that J&J aggressively marketed opioids in the state in a way that overstated their effectiveness to treat chronic pain and understated the addiction risks.
For a look at the Federal Opiate Litigation MDL 2804 see “OPIOID-CRISIS-BRIEFCASE -MDL-2804-OPIATE-PRESCRIPTION-LITIGATION” where counties, cities, indian tribes as well as unions, hospitals and individuals have filed more than 2000 lawsuits against the opioid industry as a whole.
Bad Conduct of Opioid Big Pharma Outlined
In a June 2017 memo to Purdue officials, titled “Confidential Program Recommendation,” Matt Well, a founding partner of the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm The Herald Group, details a campaign that included attacks on undisclosed attorneys general. The attacks were intended to deter other states from suing the company.
“Our goal is to make state attorneys general think twice about joining the litigation,” Well wrote in the proposal.
Other recommendations included targeting outside law firms hired to help in the cases by calling into question the attorneys’ credibility and personal profit motive.
The final recommendation included working with journalists and placing stories in specific publications to tell what the firm labeled “the anti-story”. The anti-story refers to the public relations firm finding legal experts to talk to reporters or write op-eds for publications that slam lawsuits filed by states and shift the blame for the epidemic to victims in an attempt to sway public opinion to the company’s favor.
At one point, the opiate industry attempted to raise arguments stating that the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet determined whether narcotic painkillers are unnecessarily dangerous – a central question in any litigation, which was quickly denied and seems to show that Opiate Big Pharma is once again attempting to hide behind the FDA shield.
BILLIONS IN PROFITS
The pharmaceutical industry spent a vast $6.4 billion in “direct-to-consumer” advertisements to hype new drugs in 2016, according tracking firm Kantar Media. That figure has gone up by 62% since 2012, Kantar Media says. This number may seem large at first but compared to the multi-billions in yearly profits just by opioid manufacturers over the last 15 years, the numbers is small. Corporate earnings have risen every year since the push to increase opioid prescriptions in every way possible, to became an accepted business model in Big Pharma boardrooms across the country.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky, one of the nation’s hardest-hit states, lost more than 1,400 people to drug overdoses that year.
KEY POINTS AT OKLAHOMA TRIAL
- Lawyers for the state, including Attorney General Mike Hunter, told a judge in Norman, Oklahoma that J&J knew opioids were addictive yet played down their dangers when promoting them, leading to an oversupply of pills that caused overdose deaths.
- The case is one of around 2,000 actions by state and local governments accusing drug manufacturers of contributing to the opioid epidemic.
- J&J denies causing the epidemic. Its lawyers have argued that its products made up a small share of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma and carried U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks.
Lawyers for the state of Oklahoma on Monday urged a judge to hold Johnson & Johnson responsible for fueling the U.S. opioid epidemic, as the first trial nationally in litigation over the drug crisis came to an end.
Attorney General Mike Hunter, told a judge in Norman, Oklahoma that J&J knew opioids were addictive yet played down their dangers when promoting them, leading to an oversupply of pills that caused overdose deaths.
“This company went out and sponsored lies,” Brad Beckworth, a lawyer for the state, said in his closing argument.” They went out and said the risk of addiction was less than 1%.”
He urged Judge Thad Balkmanm, who presided over the multibillion-dollar nonjury trial, to find Johnson & Johnson liable for creating a public nuisance.
The case is one of around 2,000 actions by state and local governments accusing drug manufacturers of contributing to the opioid epidemic. Opioids were linked to a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Oklahoma trial is being closely watched by plaintiffs in other opioid lawsuits, particularly in 1,900 cases pending before a federal judge in Ohio who has been pushing for a settlement ahead of an October trial.
At trial, lawyers for Oklahoma argued that J&J, which sold the painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta, had since the 1990s marketed opioids as “safe and effective for everyday pain” while downplaying their addictive qualities.
The state has accused J&J of acting as the “kingpin” behind the epidemic and says the company was motivated to boost prescriptions not only because it sold painkillers but because it also grew and imported raw materials that opioid manufacturers like OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP used.
J&J denies causing the epidemic. Its lawyers have argued that its products made up a small share of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma and carried U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks.
J&J, whose lawyers were expected to deliver their own closing arguments later on Monday, argues the state is seeking to stretch the bounds of a public nuisance statute in order to force J&J to pay up to $17.5 billion to remedy the crisis.
Purdue and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd were originally also defendants in the case. Purdue reached a $270 million settlement with the state in March and Teva settled for $85 million in June. Both deny wrongdoin
One contributing factor behind the opioid epidemic is the increase in the use of prescription painkillers nationally. From 1991 to 2011, the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by U.S. pharmacies tripled from 76 million to 219 million. This increase in the use of opioids is unique to America. The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioid drugs. There is also wide variation from one state to another in opioid-prescribing rates. In 2012 twelve states had more opioid prescriptions than people: Alabama (142.9 per 100 people), Tennessee (142.8), West Virginia (137.6), Kentucky (128.4), Oklahoma (127.8), Mississippi (120.3), Louisiana (118), Arkansas (115.8), Indiana (109.1), Michigan (107), South Carolina (101.8), and Ohio (100.1).
The impact of the opioid epidemic touches every aspect of our public safety and judicial system. Drug-related arrests involving opioids are skyrocketing. In many communities, court dockets and probation caseloads are filled with individuals with opioid-use disorders. Access to treatment, particularly medication-assisted treatment combined with cognitive behavioral interventions, is limited—particularly in rural communities. This epidemic also comes at a price. In 2015 the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services began providing substance-abuse treatment in Ohio’s prisons, spending an estimated $30 million per year on drug treatment in prisons, $4 million on housing for individuals in recovery, and $1 million over two years for naloxone to reverse drug overdoses. The Ohio State Highway Patrol spent over $2 million to expand and improve their crime lab to keep up with substance testing.
UP TO $500 BILLION SETTLEMENT?
The current “Opiate Prescription Litigation MDL 2804” is being compared to the 1998 Tobacco Litigation settlement where Big Tobacco paid a settlement of $200 billion to cities, states and other governmental entities. The Opioid Litigation is expected to reach settlement figures of 3 to 4 times that amount, projected to be at the $500 billion plus figure, due to the rampant corporate boardroom directed policies that flooded the US marketplace for the last 15 years. Corporate sales and marketing policies and lack of oversight, enabled hundreds of millions of opioid prescription drugs to reach all areas of the country, thereby causing in excess of 100 thousand deaths and unknown catastrophic economic damages in every corner of the United States.
INSURERS ARE FIGHTING BACK
In 2018 ravelers Insurance and St Paul Fire and Marine Insurance scored a legal victory when they were granted a declaratory judgment win related to defending Watson and it’s parent company Activis, Inc in the Orange County-Santa Clara County litigation, after the California Appellate Court declared the Traveller’s/St Paul opioid coverage policy void due to the “Watson’s Deliberate Conduct” in relation to sales and marketing of opioid prescription drugs, which was determined to be improper. The decision also voided the Watson-Activis coverage in the City of Chicago vs. Watson et al, in Chicago federal court, see California Appeals Court Denies Insurance Coverage For Opioid Drug Makers Defense. This may be a trend for insurance carriers as they’ve filed other legal action to void coverage on behalf of opioid drug makers including Insys Therapeutics, Inc and defense of its Subsys fentanyl fast acting drug.
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Note: (Excerpts within this article include reference materials from CBS, ABC, NBC US Department of Ju