Health Policy September 23, 2019
Johnson & Johnson – Shaping the future of pharma

By Scarlett Windmill Last - Accountable Care Journal

August 2019 saw the dramatic hearing of the most recent case against healthcare manufacturing giants Johnson & Johnson. The drugmaker has been ordered to pay $572 million USD to the state of Oklahoma in recognition of the company’s contribution to the US opioid crisis.

Over the past 19 years, opioid addiction has taken the lives of around 6,000 people in Oklahoma. According to the prosecution, this tragedy has been fuelled by healthcare companies across North America, including Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical.

Prosecuting lawyers put forward the claim that these organisations have been downplaying the effects of their products Duragesic and Nucynta through a meticulous and deceptive marketing scheme. The alleged addictiveness and huge risks presented by the over-prescription of painkillers were said to be severely modulated by Johnson & Johnson over decades, leading to the death of thousands of users as a result of overdoses.

The court ruled that the actions of Johnson & Johnson’s campaign constituted a public nuisance by increasing the threat of opioid addiction in Oklahoma by misrepresenting the side effects of certain painkillers.

Johnson & Johnson were quick to dispute this ruling as a radical interpretation of the law, insisting that the case presented was “flawed”. Sabrina Strong, a legal representative for the multinational, is chasing the court for an appeal. The company has applied for the $572 million USD fine to be waved for the duration of the appeal process.

The reaction of international healthcare manufacturers has been uneasy. Over the course of October, Ohio alone expects more than 2,000 cases to be heard in relation to opioid addiction and misuse. Fines for Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical have reached more than $350 million USD and this is only the beginning. We can expect to see a rise in the number of cases going forward and more honest marketing campaigns in the near future.