New Jersey Files Lawsuit Against J&J Subsidiary, Opioid Maker
New Jersey officials recently filed a lawsuit against a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that is a well-known opioid maker, accusing the company of misleading patients about the addictiveness of its drugs. It marked the first time New Jersey has brought legal action against a company based in the state for its alleged involvement in the opioid crisis. And it comes at a time when state attorneys general have upped their efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable opioid abuse.
Gurbir Grewal, the New Jersey attorney general, said the opioid maker, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, minimized the risks of opioid addiction in its marketing efforts, targeted the elderly and other vulnerable patients, and created a campaign to “embed its deceptions about the viability of long-term opioid use in the minds of doctors and patients,” according to the filing.
“It is especially troubling that so much of the alleged misconduct took place right here in our own backyard,” said Grewal. “New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry is the envy of the world, with a long history of developing vital, lifesaving drugs. But we cannot turn a blind eye when a New Jersey company like Janssen violates our laws and threatens the lives of our residents.”
In 2017, there were more than 72,000 overdose deaths in the country from opioids, a ten percent increase over the previous year. In addition to these crippling numbers, the crisis has also imposed a significant financial burden on states who have had to engage in extensive clean-up efforts.
“It became a state issue because there wasn’t a lot of movement on the federal level,” said Lewis S. Nelson, the chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers University. “To this date, the federal government hasn’t been very effective at regulating the practices of these pharmaceutical companies.”
New Jersey spent $178 million between 2010 and 2017 for opioid prescriptions submitted to employee health plans and the state’s death toll has been rising steadily. Nearly 2,700 overdose deaths have been confirmed in 2018 thus far, according to the state attorney general’s office.
The opioid crisis in New Jersey became the main focus of Governor Chris Christie’s final year in office and President Trump named Mr. Christie as chairman of his commission on the opioid crisis.
“We’re not shying away from holding folks accountable,” Grewal said. “If they’re culpable, we’ll hold them accountable.”
The lawsuit states, “Janssen joined the wave of opioid manufacturers working to persuade health care providers and patients — including the elderly and opioid-naïve — that pain had been widely and improperly under-treated, and that opioid pain medications were the answer.”
While Janssen sold the rights to the two drugs in 2015 for over $1 billion, Grewal said his office was focusing on the eight-year period in which the company was still the maker and distributor of these drugs.
“They funded bogus research,” he said. “They pushed bogus theories like pseudoaddiction, things that have been debunked. They positioned Nucynta and Nucynta ER as the safer alternative to other more powerful opioid drugs and, as the director mentioned, in fact, they were the same types of opioid drugs.”