Posted on: August 27, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Between 1999 and 2017, over 702,000 people in the United States have died from an opioid overdose, according to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control [1].

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Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is an American multinational company that manufactures medical devices, pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods. J&J is also one of the largest global manufacturers of opioid products, and according to the State of Oklahoma, they are a major contributor to the opioid epidemic in the state.

The state accused the pharmaceutical giant of misrepresenting narcotic drug safety, thereby twisting public awareness and endangering millions of lives.

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Along with several other states, Oklahoma took legal actions against several pharmaceutical companies. Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma was sued by over five states for contribution to the opioid crisis and deceptive marketing campaigns [2]. Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of OxyContin, a powerful opioid medication used to treat severe pain, especially in cancer patients.

In March, Purdue agreed to pay $278 in a legal settlement to Oklahoma. Several other pharmaceutical giants were sued by the state, including Teva for $85 million, but J&J resisted the legal actions, opting to drag the state to court instead. The odds didn’t turn out in their favor.

Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of OxyContin, a powerful opioid medication used to treat severe pain, especially in cancer patients. In March, Purdue agreed to pay $278 in a legal settlement to Oklahoma. Several other pharmaceutical giants were sued by the state, including Teva for $85 million, but J&J resisted the legal actions, opting to drag the state to court instead. The odds didn’t turn out in their favor.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman presided over the case, finally ordering J&J to pay a heavy fine of $572 million [3]. This is only about 3.3 percent of the initial $17.5 billion the state had sued for. The figure was reduced to $17.17 billion following the agreements reached with Teva and Purdue.

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The judge did not fine the company for merely the opioid crisis tearing through the State of Oklahoma, but also for “engaging in false and misleading marketing of both their drugs and opioids generally, and the law makes clear that such conduct is more than enough to serve as the act or omission necessary to establish the first element of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law.” 

The fierce battle

In an over 700-page filing, the State argued that the continued influx of J&J opioid prescriptions has become a public nuisance in Oklahoma, destroying lives and causing irreparable damage to the public. They accused J&J of fostering the worst opioid epidemic ever-recorded in Oklahoma, with over 6,000 citizens of the state killed from their products in recent years.

The source of this crisis is the flood of prescription opioids that have inundated Oklahoma for the past two decades. The harm it has wrought, and the threat it continues to pose to the health, safety, and welfare of the State, making it the worst nuisance Oklahoma has ever known,” the State wrote.

J&J is resisting the legal suit and plans to appeal for the reopening of the case which has been ruled closed in the first state trial. Before the final ruling, Michael Ullmann, executive vice president and general counsel for J&J, wrote that Oklahoma has no facts or evidence to support its allegations against J&J and its subsidiaries.

“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need,” he wrote. “This judgment is a misapplication of public nuisance law that has already been rejected by judges in other states.”

Johnson & Johnson insists that they are not guilty of the crimes being alleged against them by the state. The company also denied the involvement of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, one of its subsidiaries, in worsening the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma. They argued that not only were the witnesses against them implausible, the state herself failed to produce any substantial evidence to prove their claims.

“In sum, the State failed to prove that Janssen misleadingly promoted opioids, that any of Janssen’s promotions caused any harm in Oklahoma (let alone a crisis of opioid abuse), or that its proposed remedy was a prudent and justified response to the present crisis,” Johnson & Johnson wrote.

The company plans to fight back with a federal appeal.

Opioid abuse: A public health emergency

Opioids are a broad family of pain-relieving drugs that act on the opioid receptors in the brain to block pain signals [4]. They include illegal street drugs like heroin and opium but also prescribed narcotic drugs such as morphine, tramadol, methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl (sold under different trade names).

Ideally, these drugs should only be prescribed by a qualified medical professionals and taken in carefully monitored doses. However, due to their high potential for addiction many abuse them to induce a sense of euphoria, reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Dependence on the drug would build and upon abstinence, the victim spirals into withdrawal and possibly even overdose causing death [5]

With 130 Americans dying daily from an opioid overdose, the opioid epidemic is one of the country’s most alarming epidemics in recent times [6]. In October 2017, the Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency, under the directive of the President [7]

An estimated 49,000 Americans died from opioid abuse in 2017. The numbers dropped slightly in 2018 with 47,600 deaths recorded, according to data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics [8].

Opioid dependence does not only affect the abusers, but it affects their families, places of work, children, states, and the country as a whole. Driving under the influence of drugs, particularly opiods can be very dangerous, a topic that tends to be understated, but clearly can be a danger to the public [9].

Furthermore, mothers who abuse opioids during pregnancy would pass the substances through their blood to the fetuses. This would cause the babies to be born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a very painful condition caused by withdrawal from narcotic substances in babies. People have been rendered homeless, jobless, dead, maimed, institutionalized, and isolated as a result of the epidemic.

“Once you’re into heroin, it’s almost like a relationship with a person you love. and letting go of that, the thought of never seeing someone I love again— I couldn’t imagine giving it up forever,” said Dan, a homeless heroin addict from San Francisco [10]

Drugs may kill the pain, but the pain drags your joy, hope, happiness, life, and soul down into the grave. Hopefully this landmark case sets a valuable precedent Below is a helpful, trusted guide to living a happy, healthy, drug-free life.

Overcoming Drug Addiction.

  1. Admin. Opioid abuse. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html. Retrieved 27-08-19
  2. Lenny Bernstein. Five more states take legal action against Purdue Pharma for opioid crisis. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/five-more-states-sue-purdue-pharma-for-opioid-crisis/2019/05/16/80bffab4-77e4-11e9-bd25-c989555e7766_story.html?noredirect=on. Retrieved 27-08-19
  3. Jacqueline Howard And Wayne Drash. Oklahoma wins case against drugmaker in historic opioid trial. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/26/health/oklahoma-opioid-trial-verdict-bn/index.html. Retrieved 27-08-19
  4. Admin. Opioid addiction. Hopkin’s Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/what-are-opioids.html. Retrieved 27-08-19
  5. Admin. Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal. Web MD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/opioid-withdrawal-symptoms. Retrieved 27-08-19
  6. Admin. Opioid Overdose Crisis. NIH. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis. Retrieved 27-08-19
  7. Admin. HHS Acting Secretary Declares Public Health Emergency to Address National Opioid Crisis. HHS. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2017/10/26/hhs-acting-secretary-declares-public-health-emergency-address-national-opioid-crisis.html. Retrieved 27-08-19
  8. Jamie Durcharme. Drug Overdose Deaths Finally Dropped in 2018, Preliminary Data Say. Time. https://time.com/5628293/drug-overdose-deaths-2018/. Retrieved 27-08-19
  9. Driving under the influence of opioids: What prescribers should know. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30629278 
  10. James Nachtwey. The Opioid Diaries. Time.https://time.com/james-nachtwey-opioid-addiction-america/. Retrieved 27-08-19
  11. Admin. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/978763-overview. Retrieved 27-08-19
  12. Admin. Overcoming Drug Addiction. Help Guide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/overcoming-drug-addiction.htm. Retrieved 27-08-19
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