Pharma giant J&J pays out $99 million settlement to West Virginia over opioid crisis

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Embattled big pharma company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) paid out another large settlement this week, this time shelling out nearly $100 million to settle a West Virginia lawsuit over the firm’s role in the opioid epidemic. 

The payout allows the company to avoid a larger suit filed by state officials against pharmaceuticals companies it alleges played a role in the Mountain State’s drug overdose crisis – which is by far the worst in the nation.

J&J is alleged to have over-marketed opioid drugs in the state – allegations that follow it and many others around the country – and pushing doctors to over-prescribe the highly addictive drug.

This settlement is just a small part of the turmoil the company is currently facing, with it facing nearly 40,000 lawsuits for selling baby powder products with cancer-causing chemicals and allegations that it paid doctors to perform human experiments on prisoners in past decades emerging in recent years.

Johnson and Johnson paid a $99 million settlement to West Virginia over its alleged role in exacerbating the state's opioid issue. The company did not admit fault as part of the payout (file photo)

Johnson and Johnson paid a $99 million settlement to West Virginia over its alleged role in exacerbating the state’s opioid issue. The company did not admit fault as part of the payout (file photo)

J&J, and other major pharma companies, are accused of leveraging their relationships with doctors to over-prescribe highly-addictive opioids (file photo)

J&J, and other major pharma companies, are accused of leveraging their relationships with doctors to over-prescribe highly-addictive opioids (file photo)

As part of the settlement, J&J does not admit any liability or wrong-doing for its role in the opioid crisis.

The company also paid out a $5 billion settlement earlier this year to clear state and local level lawsuits from around the country.

Not included in that suit, West Virginia chose to sue J&J on its own, adding it to a suit that also included Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan.

West Virginia previously reached a $26 million settlement with Endo International Plc, which had also been a defendant in the ongoing trial. 

The Mountain state is suffering worse than any other from America’s drug epidemic, which kills more than 100,000 people every 12 months, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Most recent CDC data, released earlier this month that includes a 12 month period from November 2020 to 2021, found that 1,519 West Virginia residents died of a drug overdose during that period.

At 84.9 deaths per 100,000 residents, West Virginia is recording by far the most deaths per capita – Tennessee coming in second at 56.4 per 100,000 residents – and more than triple the national overdose rate.

The embattled J&J has also faced thousands of lawsuits over allegations that its talc-based baby powder product was contaminated with asbestos (file photo)

The embattled J&J has also faced thousands of lawsuits over allegations that its talc-based baby powder product was contaminated with asbestos (file photo)

US records more than 106,000 drug overdose deaths in 12 months, CDC reports

An estimated 106,854 Americans died of a drug overdose from November 2020 to 2021, according to a CDC report. It is the sixth consecutive monthly report that has set at all-time record, and the eighth straight with over 100,000 deaths reported.

Opioids, and specifically synthetic versions of the drug like fentanyl, are most at fault. Just over 80,000 deaths are believed to have been caused by opioids, which synthetic opioids making up around 70,000 of them. 

The 106,000 mark is a slight increase from the 105,000 deaths recorded from October 2020 to 2021 in a report published last month. It is also a 16 percent increase year-to-year.

The overdose crisis, which has been most prominently associated with the opioid epidemic, emerged as a result of a variety of factors over the past two decades.

Relationships between doctors and pharmaceutical companies were blamed for a surge in prescriptions of the highly addictive painkilling drugs, leading to many becoming dependent, and turning to the black market to purchase illicit versions. 

 

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said on Monday that the settlement, which also resolves lawsuits by local governments, would allow the state to quickly fund programs intended to address opioid addiction and its fallout in the state.

‘We can save lives this year, and that’s what we’re going to do,’ Morrisey said at a news conference.

J&J finalized a nationwide $5 billion opioid settlement in February, which largely resolved state and local government opioid lawsuits against the healthcare conglomerate.

West Virginia was one of five states that did not join that settlement at the time. The state would have received about $50 million had it joined the earlier agreement.

Morrisey said the increased recovery from J&J vindicated the decision not to join the nationwide settlement.

The New Brunswick, New Jersey, based company, that has since pulled its opioid products from shelves, has been described as the ‘Kingpin’ behind the opioid epidemic in previous lawsuits.

‘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,’ Mike Hunter, former Oklahoma attorney general said. 

‘The evidence is clear that they must be held accountable for the public nuisance they caused and ordered to abate it.’

Its opioids are not the only products J&J has had to remove from shelves after facing a mountain of lawsuits.

J&J faced nearly 40,000 lawsuits in recent years over allegations that its talc-based baby powder product was contaminated with asbestos – a cancer-causing chemical tied to mesothelioma and other cancers.

It has since been pulled from shelves in the U.S., and the company was able to settle some of the suits by attaching liability to a Texas-based shell company and file for bankruptcy. 

Mounting suits have not hurt the company much financially, though. According to an analysis by Fierce Pharma, J&J is still the largest pharma company in the world, with revenue even growing by 14 percent last year.

The worldwide distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, along with many other consumer products, have proved to be a boon for the company.

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