Johnson & Johnson Called Opioid "Kingpin" In Oklahoma Lawsuit

By Lindsey Weedston 03/18/19

The lawsuit names the multinational company as a “top supplier, seller and lobbyist” for prescription opioids.

Image: 
Johnson & Johnson's famous baby powder
Photo via WikiCommons/ Austin Kirks

Johnson & Johnson is being named as a “kingpin” of the opioid epidemic in the first big trial targeting opioid manufacturers, which is set to take place in May 2019.

The lawsuit, brought by the state of Oklahoma, is naming the multinational company as a “top supplier, seller and lobbyist” for prescription opioids, according to a report by Axios.

Although Purdue Pharma is the most commonly cited company associated with the opioid crisis, there are several other pharmaceutical companies being targeted by the many hundreds of lawsuits being brought to court by local governments as well as individuals.

Johnson & Johnson, most often associated with baby powder and lotion products, is classified as a pharmaceutical company. 

Prior to the Axios report, Johnson & Johnson came under fire when it was discovered that the brand’s baby powder contained asbestos. The company was ordered by a California judge on Wednesday to pay $29 million to a woman who sued based on the claim that the powder was a “substantial contributing factor” in the development of her terminal cancer.

In addition to everyday home products, Johnson & Johnson “produced raw narcotics in Tasmanian poppy fields, created other active opioid ingredients, and then supplied the products to other opioid makers—including Purdue Pharma,” according to the report.

The company also allegedly boasted about the high morphine content of its poppies, targeted children and the elderly in its marketing, and funded multiple “pro-opioid groups.” A brochure made by one of the company’s subsidiaries even claimed that “opioids are rarely addictive.”

The lawyers representing Oklahoma in the upcoming case have asked a court to release millions of pages of Johnson & Johnson’s confidential documents to the public, based on the fact that the company has divested from the opioid business and therefore shouldn’t have to worry about losing trade secrets.

“The public interest in this information is urgent, enduring and overwhelming,” wrote Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Johnson & Johnson provided Axios with a statement in the company’s defense, claiming that it “appropriately and responsibly met all laws and regulations on the manufacturing, sale and distribution of APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) and the raw materials that go into them” and that its “actions in the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible.”

The company claims that it accounted for “less than one percent” of the total market share for opioid medications.

However, the Axios report points out that Johnson & Johnson made $1 billion in 2015 by selling the opioid Nucynta and $2 billion from the fentanyl patch Duragesic, which it still sells to this day.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston

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