West Virginia will receive $99 million as part of a settlement with Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. over the drugmaker’s role in exacerbating the opioid crisis in the state, which has long been the nation’s leader in drug overdose deaths.
During a news conference, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he believes the state’s settlement with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, which has faced opioid litigation in dozens of communities across the country, is the largest in the country per capita.
The figure, according to the attorney general, reflects the severity of West Virginia’s opioid crisis. “We think it represents a major step forward to start to get money in the door to help West Virginians who have been devastated by the opioid epidemic,” Morrisey said from his state Capitol office.
The settlement was announced as the state’s case against Janssen, Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., AbbVie Inc.’s Allergan, and their family of companies entered its third week of testimony. The companies are accused of exaggerating the benefits of prescription drugs while downplaying or failing to mention the risks of addiction associated with opioid use in West Virginia.
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson and Janssen said in a statement on Monday that the settlement is not a “admittance of liability or wrongdoing” by the company.
According to a press release, “the company’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important opioid prescription medications were appropriate and responsible.” According to the press release, the company no longer sells prescription opioid medications in the United States.
According to Morrisey, the settlement money could be distributed to West Virginia cities and counties in 45 days. The funds will be used to aid communities in their fight against the opioid crisis. In the meantime, he stated that the trial against Teva and Allergan is proceeding as planned.
The lawsuits accuse the companies of causing a public nuisance and violating the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act, which were filed in 2019.
During opening statements earlier this month, attorneys for the companies claimed that the products in question had less than 1% market share in West Virginia, were medically necessary prescriptions, and could not have contributed to the state’s opioid problems.
However, pharmaceutical marketing expert Matthew Perri testified that he reviewed thousands of pages of marketing materials from the companies “painstakingly.” From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, he described a “paradigm shift” in which companies shifted from marketing opioids as drugs for terminal cancer patients to drugs for long-term pain.
Perri testified that sales representatives’ marketing materials described the drugs as “safe and highly effective” for controlling pain and “improving functionality and quality of life” for patients.
Dr. Katherine Keyes, director of Columbia University’s Psychiatric Epidemiology Training Program, testified last week that the influx of prescription opioids into communities, rather than poverty, job loss, or other economic stressors, was the primary driver of the state’s drug crisis.
During a video deposition earlier this month, Dr. Rahul Gupta, the state’s former health officer, testified that the opioid epidemic had gotten so bad that the state was having trouble finding foster parents to care for children. He added that it resulted in an increase in public health issues like Hepatitis B and HIV cases, as well as neonatal abstinence syndrome, a withdrawal in newborns caused by drug exposure in the womb.
Gupta, who is now the White House drug czar, taped his testimony before being appointed to his current position in the White House last fall.
A California judge ruled in November that local governments had not proven in a lawsuit that Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, Endo International, Teva, and others used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance.
Johnson & Johnson and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson reached nationwide settlements in February over their roles in the opioid addiction crisis. This made it possible for $26 billion to be distributed to nearly every state and local government in the United States. Separate lawsuits in West Virginia resulted in settlements of $37 million with distributor McKesson in 2019, $20 million with Cardinal Health, and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen in 2017.