Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, was aware of the deceptive marketing of drug maker Purdue Pharma used to push sales of its highly addictive opioid OxyContin. Before reviewing discovery documents in preparation to testify during a landmark trial against Johnson & Johnson for its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, Kolodny said, “I really was not aware how bad Johnson & Johnson was.”
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed the lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, blaming the companies for aggressively marketing their opioids and causing a wave of overdose deaths and associated economic burden in the state. Purdue settled in March for $270 million. Teva settled for $85 million just two days before the trial began. Johnson & Johnson decided to try its luck in the courtroom, marking the first lawsuit of its kind holding a drug company accountable for the opioid crisis to reach trial.
The case alleges that two Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries, Tasmanian Alkaloids and Noramco, “created, grew, imported and supplied to J&J and its other co-conspirators, including Purdue, the narcotic raw materials necessary to manufacture the opioid pain medications thrust upon the unsuspecting public since the 1990s.”
Kolodny, testifying on the 11th day of the historic trial, said Johnson & Johnson was different from other opioid makers because it dabbled in natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids. Kolodny said he contacted Tasmanian Alkaloids because he wanted to travel to Tasmania and see for himself the fields where so many of the opioids originated, but it was clear that the company did not want him to visit. He likened the drug industry’s attempts to cover up its actions to that of the tobacco industry, and credits trials against Big Tobacco, adding “all of that helped change the attitudes in this country about smoking. I believe we can see the same benefit [from] opioid litigation.”
The previous day, a marketing expert said it would take about $285 million to fund a marketing campaign over two decades to counteract the damage of Big Pharma’s opioid reign in Oklahoma. That money, the expert said, would not include the millions the state would need to recover from the overdose deaths and economic damage the opioid epidemic has caused there.