Drugmakers Accused of Causing Opioid Addiction in Trial -- Update
By Sara Randazzo
A lawyer for several large California communities accused four
drugmakers of causing a deadly wave of opioid addiction with their
aggressive marketing of pain pills, while defense attorneys said
the firms followed the law, on the opening day of a trial closely
watched by the pharmaceutical industry.
"Without an avalanche of prescription opioids, there wouldn't be
an opioid epidemic," said Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a plaintiffs' lawyer
hired to represent the counties of Los Angeles, Orange and Santa
Clara and the city of Oakland.
The monthslong trial, being held fully by videoconference and
decided solely by a judge, began Monday with opening remarks from
Ms. Fitzpatrick and attorneys for the drugmakers being accused of
misconduct -- Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Ltd., Endo
International PLC and AbbVie Inc.'s Allergan.
The drugmakers argued Monday that they properly marketed their
drugs under regulatory oversight and that the plaintiffs won't be
able to show examples of local deaths that stemmed from their
"The evidence will not support this grand conspiracy theory,"
Collie James, an attorney for Teva, said in his opening
The California trial, along with others expected to start in
West Virginia federal court in May and New York state court in
June, could spur drugmakers and distributors to finalize
settlements to end opioid lawsuits nationwide. Three large
distributors and J&J have proposed paying a collective $26
billion to settle the cases, and others are in talks. Consulting
giant McKinsey & Co. recently agreed to pay $641 million to
resolve claims by states over advice it gave to OxyContin maker
Purdue Pharma LP.
Ms. Fitzpatrick said the companies should be held responsible
under California's public nuisance and misleading marketing laws
for their role in causing opioid addiction in the state.
Between 1997 and 2017, California received more than 20 billion
doses of prescription opioids, Ms. Fitzpatrick said, in the form of
pills, patches or lozenges.
The communities say the drugmakers pushed their prescription
opioids on doctors despite knowing there was a mounting
public-health crisis. Ms. Fitzpatrick showed Orange County Superior
Court Judge Peter Wilson internal company documents acknowledging
what Endo, for instance, called a "public-health conundrum" during
a strategy meeting in 2011. An attorney for Endo, John Hueston,
later said they were providing context "so Endo could find the
"This was about money," she said, showing images of drug
advertisements depicting lives improved by opioids and documents
from the companies using the word "aggressive" to describe their
own marketing. One Teva internal email urged employees: "Keep on
cranking out the coupons and driving Rx growth!"
The proceeding, arising from claims first filed in 2014, is only
the second trial from more than 3,000 lawsuits filed nationwide by
state and local governments seeking to hold drugmakers,
distributors and pharmacies accountable for the opioid epidemic.
Nearly 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from legal and illicit
opioids since 1999, according to federal data.
Mr. James said Teva's medicines continue to be prescribed as
legal and necessary pain-management options. For those with cancer,
Mr. James said, opioids such as theirs are often the only way to
prevent a miserable life in pain. "Pain is a serious problem in
this country," J&J lawyer Michael Yoder echoed in his opening
The companies also said that their drugs have accounted for a
sliver of the total opioids prescribed in the four communities at
trial and that heroin and synthetic fentanyl are to blame for many
overdoses. "These illegal opioids are the problem, not prescription
opioids," Endo's Mr. Hueston said.
If Judge Wilson finds the companies liable, the counties will
ask him at a second trial to award billions of dollars in penalties
and abatement funds to help pay for the costs of opioid
The manufacturers, Ms. Fitzpatrick said, aren't the only ones
responsible, but, "We are saying that they started it."
Write to Sara Randazzo at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 19, 2021 19:40 ET (23:40 GMT)
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