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Johnson & Johnson faces multibillion opioids lawsuit that could upend big pharma

Published: June 23, 2019
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Source: theguardian.com

Day after day, the memos flashing across screens in an Oklahoma courtroom have jarred with the family-friendly public image of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant best known for baby powder and Band-Aid.

In one missive, a sales representative dismissed a doctor’s fears that patients might become addicted to the company’s opioid painkillers by telling him those who didn’t die probably wouldn’t get hooked. Another proposes targeting sales of the powerfully addictive drugs at those most at risk: men under 40.

As the state of Oklahoma’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson has unfolded over the past month, the company has struggled to explain marketing strategies its accusers say dangerously misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction to doctors, manipulated medical research, and helped drive an epidemic that has claimed 400,000 lives over the past two decades.

Johnson & Johnson profited further as demand for opioids surged by buying poppy growing companies in Australia to supply the raw narcotic for its own medicines and other American drug makers.

One expert witness at the forefront of combatting the epidemic, Dr Andrew Kolodny, told the court he had little idea about Johnson & Johnson’s role until he saw the evidence in the case.

“I think it’s fair to characterize Johnson & Johnson as a kingpin in our opioid crisis,” he said.

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Canadian drug makers enriched themselves at the expense of vulnerable patients by illegally and deceptively promoting highly addictive opioids that have killed thousands in recent years, a proposed class action filed Wednesday asserts. The untested statement of claim filed in Ontario Superior Court seeks more than $1.1 billion in various damages from almost two dozen companies, including some of the biggest pharmaceutical names in the country such as Apotex, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson and Johnson, and the Jean Coutu Group.

Years into America’s opioid epidemic, as the death toll climbed into the hundreds of thousands, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a hearing to consider a drug company application to approve a new high-strength painkiller.

New York City on Tuesday sued eight companies that make or distribute prescription opioids, blaming them for fuelling a deadly epidemic afflicting the most populous U.S. city. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the lawsuit sought $500 million of damages to help fight the crisis, which kills more people in the city annually than homicides and car accidents combined, including more than 1,100 from opioid-induced overdoses in 2016.

This incident highlights the impunity large corporations, who are backed by the government, enjoy. Had the average citizen negligently caused the deaths of hundreds of people, they would be the most notorious serial killer of all time. However, since Bayer and Johnson & Johnson are a part of the corporatocracy — no one will be prosecuted.

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