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J&J Knew of the Dangers of Opioids Years Ago

— September 19, 2019

Emails regarding the potential for J&’s products to be abused surface as new exhibits.

New documents show that as early as 2001, executives at Janssen, the pharmaceutical branch of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), were aware of the fact their company’s fentanyl patch Duragesic was being abused.

In February of that year, after the the New York Times published an investigation into the abuse of OxyContin, doctors questioned Janssen about if Duragesic could be abused.  A Janssen employee circulated a draft of a letter for physicians about the drug’s abuse potential, and Janssen’s Vice President of Analgesia Steve Zollo responded, “Please explain to me why we have to go through such painstaking detail around every single published report on Duragesic abuse?  Our problem is because of the increased scrutiny of Oxycontin abuse, physicians want to compare the relative risk Vs/ Duragesic.”  He continued, “Let’s be clear about this issue – As the use of Duragesic continues to rise (which it will), so will drug abusers trying to find creative ways to extract fentanyl from the patch.  That’s why it’s a scheduled drug.  As our use goes up, so will published reports of abuse.  If we want to report every case in the literature, this memo will be longer than the current 7 pages.  If we feel compelled to provide information about any of our products to the degree that can be found on the Internet than Dave you don’t have enough people.”

J&J Knew of the Dangers of Opioids Years Ago
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

The emails were included in a collection of exhibits used in the current litigation against J&J.  Also among the exhibits in the federal litigation was a 2003 report from consulting firm Sacoor Medical Group prepared for Janssen stating, “From 2001 to 2002, the numbers show that fentanyl is on the rise and, unfortunately, abusers of the reservoir patch who experiment and in many cases overdose, sometimes die.”

J&J counsel Sabrina Strong said J&J “responsibly marketed and monitored our patch Duragesic, which data show was among the least abused, misused and diverted Schedule II opioids.” She added that “any drug can be abused,” and Janssen “took seriously its responsibility to monitor abuse, misuse, and diversion.”

The allegations against J&J are that, like many other drug makers, it downplayed the addictive effects of its opioids, Duragesic and Nucynta, and that J&J subsidiaries were key players in the opioid supply chain, growing poppies in Tasmania and selling narcotics to leading drug companies, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.

A 2015 presentation prepared for Noramco’s sale, which occurred in 2016, also included on the exhibit list, revealed that J&J developed this portion of its business “in the J1970s to secure supply of ingredients for Tylenol with Codeine, and it grew to become the #1 supplier of Narcotic [active pharmaceutical ingredients] in the United States, the world’s largest market.” As of 2015, Noramco had an “excellent compliance record” and was focused on “expansion of synthetic controlled substances for ADD/ADHD.”

J&J has consistently argued that Noramco was regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and that the company wasn’t “responsible for the manufacturing or sales of opioids made by other companies using Noramco ingredients.”


Newly Uncovered Emails Show Johnson & Johnson Knew Its Opioids Were Being Abused 18 Years Ago

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