Johnson & Johnson Accused Of Marketing Opioids To Children

By Kelly Burch 05/07/19

A rep for the company says Johnson & Johnson discussed children’s pain relief, but never targeted children with its drugs. 

a parent giving a sick child prescription opioids

Johnson & Johnson contributed to the opioid crisis in Oklahoma in part by marketing opioid drugs to children, according to allegations made by the state of Oklahoma in a lawsuit against the company. 

“In perhaps one of the most reprehensible documents produced by defendants, this shows the depths to which J & J would go to earn a profit on their products—target potential ‘replacement customers’ at an early age to get them using (and addicted to) opioids,” one court document reads, according to The Washington Post.

The company strongly denies this claim. A representative said that Johnson & Johnson, whose subsidiaries manufacture opioid products, discussed children’s pain relief, but never targeted children with its drugs. 

However, Bradley Beckworth, an attorney who is representing Oklahoma in the lawsuit, said that targeting children with dangerous products is not unheard of. 

“The recruitment of children... is the same kind of thing the tobacco industry did,” he said. “It’s the same kind of thing that other drugs companies do. Just marketing opioids to cancer patients and surgery patients was not enough. They wanted to expand the customer base.” 

The allegations stem from a lawsuit that Oklahoma brought against Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceutical, which makes and distributes generic opioids.

In March, Purdue Pharma settled with the state for $270 million without admitting wrongdoing. 

Since then, the state has been focused on Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical. The lawsuit alleges that both companies, which provided materials for opioids, contributed quietly to the crisis behind the scenes. 

“Johnson & Johnson helped create the worst public health crisis in United States history,” said Bradley Beckworth. “They grew the demand. They spread the lies and they fed it with their own product... We’ll show that at trial.”

The state’s lawsuit aims to hold the drug manufacturers liable for the harm caused by their products under the state’s public nuisance laws. University of Oklahoma College of Law professor Andrew M. Coats said that the case is fairly solid. 

He said, “It has a good deal of merit to it, because our statute on public nuisance is pretty broad,” he said.

However, a representative for Johnson & Johnson said that the company was following the law. 

“The production of raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients used to manufacture Schedule II medications in the U.S. is strictly controlled, limited and monitored by the DEA, FDA, and other regulators,” a statement from the company read. “The DEA sets quotas based on the agency’s assessment of the need for medicines containing these substances, and our businesses complied with these laws and regulations.”

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