AG: Evidence shows Johnson & Johnson is Kingpin behind Oklahoma’s opioid epidemic

Published: 07/03/2019, 4:14 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(NORMAN, Okla.) Attorney General Mike Hunter and attorneys representing the state in its case against the nation’s leading drug manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, rested its case this week after five weeks of testimony that showed how the company conducted a multi-decade fraudulent marketing campaign that led to the deadliest manmade epidemic the nation has ever seen. “After over a month of testimony, we have shown why we believe that Johnson & Johnson is the Kingpin behind the opioid crisis that has caused the deaths of thousands of Oklahomans and created a generation of people addicted to opioids in our state,” Attorney General Hunter said. “The evidence is clear that they must be held accountable for the public nuisance they caused and ordered to abate it. They have created this problem and now they want to not only blame the state, but run from the problem. Perhaps most offensive, and what state Mental Health Commissioner Terri White put into perspective so well, is that Johnson & Johnson’s corporate representative, while on the stand, said the company bears zero responsibility for the death and destruction it has caused.” The following are highlights of the evidence presented by the state: Johnson & Johnson created a mutant strain of poppy in 1994 that allowed it to manufacture and supply massive amounts of opioids. For years, Johnson & Johnson supplied more than 60 percent of all active ingredients for opioids manufactured and sold in the United States; Johnson & Johnson created this strain specifically in anticipation of potential future demand for oxycodone. Purdue said its biggest barrier to success was getting enough supply of oxycodone. Johnson & Johnson met with Purdue for years to discuss Purdue’s supply needs. Johnson & Johnson told Purdue they would meet all of its needs if Purdue would sign a long term supply agreement. That agreement was signed by both parties; Johnson & Johnson then went on a decade and a half long campaign to market all opioids—not just their named brands—as safe for everyday pain and having a low risk of addiction. Since they were the No. 1 supplier of narcotic, opioid active ingredients in the United States, Johnson & Johnson had every incentive to boost the opioid market as a whole. This “unbranded” marketing worked; Between 2000 and 2011, Johnson & Johnson sales representatives targeted Oklahoma doctors nearly 150,000 times and marketed their own synthetic opioids—such as fentanyl, tapentadol and tramadol—for use as broadly as possible; Johnson & Johnson specifically targeted high prescribers of opioids and reinforced their misrepresentations that opioids were safe and effective for everyday pain. They sent sales representatives into pill mills dozens of times to try to get doctors to write more and more prescriptions; Johnson & Johnson had a detailed “Influence Map” that it used to target and influence every level of our state’s government with its marketing lies to try to make sure that their opioids were on our approved lists. Company representatives told state leaders these drugs were safe and effective. Internal emails show Johnson & Johnson employees bragging about persuading Oklahoma officials not to place restrictions on Johnson & Johnson opioids; Johnson & Johnson used sales “hooks” to specifically target women and returning war veterans; The number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome—horrible withdrawal due to exposure to opioids when the mother is pregnant—skyrocketed after 2000. As Tonya Radcliffe, a mother of 3 foster children born with opioid exposure testified, the only way to explain what an NAS baby goes through is “Hell on earth;” Johnson and Johnson engaged with and funded dozens of industry “front groups” to spread these false statements and promote broad and unfettered use of opioids for everyday pain; In 1990, Johnson & Johnson’s outside lawyer met with Congress to get more relaxed rules for importing Johnson & Johnson’s opioids into the United States from Australia—where Johnson & Johnson would later plant its crops of the mutant poppy. That same lawyer was an author of the 1997 Consensus Statement—a document that called for widespread use of all opioids for chronic pain and claims that opioids were rarely addictive. This document was disseminated throughout the state; Johnson & Johnson engaged in media outreach to children and adolescents centered on the company’s pain management hook. And just days after the trial began, the website with the outreach information was taken down. When the State exposed this to the Court, Johnson & Johnson had the website put back up; Johnson & Johnson was warned by its own medical advisory team to not market these drugs as low risk for abuse and misuse in 2001, yet it did so anyway, even after it was warned by the FDA to stop; Every witness that Johnson & Johnson has called in its case-in-chief has gutted Johnson & Johnson’s defense even further. Instead, their witnesses’ testimony has corroborated the State’s case—that oversupply of opioids leads to addiction and death. And none of Johnson & Johnson’s witnesses has rebutted the evidence that Johnson & Johnson was the source of the oversupply; Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner Terri White testified that it will cost the state over $17 billion to clean up the mess Johnson & Johnson made—money that must be spent to abate this crisis by the company that was a primary cause of it, not the taxpayers of this state.


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