The first trial examining pharma’s role in the opioid crisis began in Oklahoma on Tuesday.
The lawsuit, brought by state Attorney General Mike Hunter contends that the pharmaceutical industry contributed to the opioid epidemic by making misleading claims about its products and aggressively marketing opioids.
Before the trial, two of the three companies named in the lawsuit settled with Oklahoma. Purdue Pharma agreed to a settlement in March for $270 million, with much of that money going to establish an addiction-treatment center in the state. Teva settled the lawsuit just days before the trial was set to begin. The company agreed to pay $85 million.
That left Johnson & Johnson, as well as its pharma subsidiary, Janssen, as the only defendant.
Janssen previously manufactured the painkiller Nucynta, which was approved in 2008, sold to Depomed in 2015 for $1 billion and later sold to Collegium Pharmaceuticals last year. Janssen also manufactures Duragesic, which contains fentanyl.
In opening statements, J&J defense attorney Larry Ottaway described the development of Nucynta and Janssen’s marketing tactics, including the use of branded marketing and key opinion leaders to promote opioids.
Ottaway also contended that Janssen did not settle the suit before trial because there was no wrongdoing on its part, saying, “Why are we here? Because when you’re right, you fight.”
The state said that J&J marketed its opioids as safe for everyday pain, while downplaying the risks of addiction. Brad Beckworth, an attorney for the state, said in his opening statement that because J&J also grew and imported raw materials for opioids, it had more to benefit from prescribing more drugs.