Expert: Johnson & Johnson Played Bigger Role In Opioid Crisis Than Purdue Pharma

By Kelly Burch 06/17/19

Johnson & Johnson is less well-known as an opioid manufacturer, but the company makes Duragesic, a fentanyl patch, and produced Nucynta, an opioid, until 2015.

woman taking opioid pill from doctor

The company may be best-known for its sweet-smelling baby washes and lotion, but Johnson & Johnson has a sinister side, according to an expert witness who said that the company may have played an even bigger role in the opioid epidemic than Purdue Pharma. 

Johnson & Johnson “did everything it possibly could to get doctors to prescribe more and more opioids,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, according to Bloomberg

"In some ways," the company was “worse" than Purdue, Kolodny said, according to CNN

Kolodny was speaking as an expert witness for the state of Oklahoma, which is suing Johnson & Johnson for contributing to the opioid epidemic. The state previously reached settlements with Purdue Pharma for $270 million and with Teva Pharmaceuticals for $85 million, although neither company admitted to wrongdoing. 

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has become well-known for its deceptive marketing practices and lavish rewards to doctors who prescribed lots of opioid pills. The Sackler family, members of whom own the company, have been vilified for what many see as their active management of misinformation. 

Johnson & Johnson is less well-known as an opioid manufacturer, but the company makes Duragesic, a fentanyl patch, and produced the opioid pill Nucynta until 2015, when it sold the product for $1 billion. Johnson & Johnson had products that were natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids, meaning it was active in many spaces around opioid marketing. 

"Until I had an opportunity to review discovery documents I really was not aware of how bad Johnson & Johnson was,” Kolodny said. 

When he had tried to visit Tasmanian Alkaloids, a former subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, Kolodny said it was “clear” that the company did not want him around. Kolodny also said that despite the fact that he has played a prevalent role in crafting opioid policy in response to the epidemic, no one from Johnson & Johnson ever reached out to him. 

Despite the state’s assertion that Johnson & Johnson contributed to opioid abuse in Oklahoma, the company continues to deny responsibility. 

"The testimony of the State's witness, Dr. Kolodny, was filled with rampant speculation and conclusions not derived from facts," the company’s attorney John Sparks said in a statement. "The evidence remains that Johnson & Johnson and its former subsidiaries appropriately and responsibly met all laws and regulations on the manufacturing, sale and distribution of active pharmaceutical ingredients and pharmaceutical products and did everything you'd expect a responsible company to do.”

However, Kolodny maintained that the public needs to know about the role that Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers played in the opioid crisis. 

"All of that helped change the attitudes in this country about smoking," he said. "I believe we can see the same benefit [from] opioid litigation."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.