Local governments are seeking billions of dollars to pay the expenses of the nation’s opioid epidemic, and a California judge has decided in their favor.
On Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson delivered a provisional judgement, saying the government had failed to show that pharmaceutical corporations used misleading marketing to increase unneeded opioid prescriptions and cause a public nuisance.
“There is simply no evidence to suggest that the increase in prescriptions was not the product of medically acceptable pain medication distribution to individuals in need,” Wilson said in a nearly 40-page opinion.
The court said that “any unfavorable downstream repercussions resulting from medically acceptable prescriptions cannot be considered an actionable public nuisance.”
The counties of Los Angeles, Orange, and Santa Clara, as well as the city of Oakland, claimed that pharmaceutical companies misled doctors and patients by downplaying the risks of addiction, overdose, death, and other health complications while exaggerating the benefits for long-term health conditions.
The plaintiffs expressed disappointment with the decision, but said they planned to appeal so that “no opioid manufacturer may participate in irresponsible corporate tactics that jeopardize public health in the state for their own profit.”
Johnson & Johnson, as well as AbbVie Inc’s Allergan subsidiary, Endo International, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and others, are named in the complaint.
In court documents, the corporations claimed that “opioid medicines are a suitable therapy for many chronic-pain patients” and that most of their marketing mirrored FDA-approved warnings.
The potent medications have previously only been used after operations or for other acute, short-term pain, or for cancer or palliative care, according to the local governments.
The complaint said that the drugmakers “effectively altered the way doctors manage chronic pain, unleashing the floodgates of opioid prescribing and consumption.” “Defendants’ profit margins have been inflated at the cost of chronic pain patients as a result of this surge in opioid prescriptions and consumption.”
Since 2001, over half a million Americans have died as a result of opioid misuse, according to the federal government.
The opioid addiction problem has been accepted by all parties.
Hospitalizations for drug usage and overdose fatalities, according to Wilson, “starkly highlight the immensity of the ongoing problem.”
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that while the “crisis is a hugely complicated public health problem,” the judgment demonstrated that it marketed its prescription medicines in a “appropriate and reasonable” manner.
Following months of testimony, Endo International said the ruling was “thorough and careful,” and the company’s “lawful actions did not produce the broad public nuisance at issue” in the complaint.
Teva expressed satisfaction with the decision, but said that “clear victories for the many patients in the United States who suffer from opioid addiction will only occur when comprehensive settlements are concluded and assistance are made available to those who need them.”
According to the plaintiffs, providing comprehensive opioid abatement programs in the four jurisdictions that brought the action may cost $50 billion, based on expert estimates. The funds would be used to support ongoing opioid misuse prevention and treatment initiatives in the counties of Los Angeles and Santa Clara.
When it was filed in 2014, the California case was the first of its kind in the United States, according to authorities. Thousands more identical cases have now been brought by cities, counties, and states around the country.
After an Oklahoma court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $465 million in 2019, this was only the second such case to go to trial. That verdict is being appealed by the corporation.
Local governments in West Virginia are suing the nation’s three largest drug-distribution companies: AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp. A similar trial is underway in federal court in West Virginia, where local governments are suing the nation’s three largest drug-distribution companies: AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp. Other cases have resulted in large settlements or settlement proposals.
In July, Johnson & Johnson and those three firms were in the last stages of negotiating a $26 billion deal that would cover hundreds of government cases, but final approval from state and local governments might take months.
Separately, New York state has a $1 billion-plus contract with the three drug wholesalers. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Endo International, and AbbVie Inc., the same defendants as in the California case, will face trial.
Johnson & Johnson earlier settled with New York for $230 million without admitting wrongdoing before a trial against manufacturers, regional distribution businesses, and pharmacies began there. Johnson & Johnson has stated that it is willing to donate $5 billion to a nationwide settlement.
Trials in West Virginia and California were not halted as a result of the agreements. The weeks-long trial in California began on April 19.