New Jersey Sues One Of Its Largest Employers Over Opioids

By Kelly Burch 11/16/18

The lawsuit alleges that Janssen Pharmaceuticals minimized the risk of opioids and targeted older patients who were less aware of the dangers of the drugs.

lawyers discuss bringing a lawsuit against a Big Pharma company over opioids

The pharmaceutical industry is a major economic driver for the state of New Jersey, but that did not stop the state’s attorney general from launching a lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, one of the state’s largest employers, over its marketing practices around opioids.

“It is especially troubling that so much of the alleged misconduct took place right here in our own backyard,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at a news conference, according to the New York Times. “New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry is the envy of the world, with a long history of developing vital, lifesaving drugs. But we cannot turn a blind eye when a New Jersey company like Janssen violates our laws and threatens the lives of our residents.”

The lawsuit alleges that Janssen minimized the risk of opioids, targeted older patients who were less aware of the dangers of the drugs, and made an effort to “embed its deceptions about the viability of long-term opioid use in the minds of doctors and patients.”

The lawsuit focuses on the eight-year period that Janssen marketed two opioid products—Nucynta and Nucynta ER—before selling the rights to those medications for more than $1 billion in 2015. 

Grewal said that the company intentionally fostered misinformation about those drugs. 

“They funded bogus research,” he said. “They pushed bogus theories like pseudo-addiction, things that have been debunked. They positioned Nucynta and Nucynta ER as the safer alternative to other more powerful opioid drugs and, as the director mentioned, in fact, they were the same types of opioid drugs.”

The lawsuit points out egregious prescribing practices, including one patient who received 125 prescriptions for two opioids in just one year, totaling a 2,700-day supply of opioid pills. The doctor who wrote those prescriptions had taken hundreds of visits from Janssen representatives, the lawsuit said. 

The pharmaceutical industry in New Jersey has shrunken slightly amid the opioid crisis, but still makes up about 8% of jobs in the state. However, Grewal said that did not factor into his decision over whether or not to pursue a lawsuit. 

“We’re not shying away from holding folks accountable,” Mr. Grewal said. “If they’re culpable, we’ll hold them accountable.”

This is the first time that New Jersey has taken legal action against a company based in the state, the New York Times reported. However, it’s not the first opioid-related lawsuit in the state. Former Governor Chris Christie’s administration launched legal action against Purdue Pharma and Insys Therapeutics, another opioid manufacturer. 

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