New Jersey Sues Janssen Over Two Opioid Drugs
By Alex Keown
The state of New Jersey is taking aim at a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson over opioids. State officials filed a lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceutical claiming the company minimized the risk of addiction as it marketed the pain treatments.
With the lawsuit, filed Tuesday, New Jersey joins a long line of government bodies that have brought allegations against opioid manufacturers and distributors as the nation grapples with a crisis of addiction to the medication. According to The New York Times, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Janssen minimized the risks of opioid addiction and targeted older patients in its sales efforts. Additionally, Grewal said Janssen’s marketing efforts include a campaign to “embed its deceptions about the viability of long-term opioid use in the minds of doctors and patients,” according to the Times.
In a statement from Grewal’s office, the attorney general filed a five-count lawsuit against Janssen regarding two opioid products, Nucynta and Nucynta ER, which the lawsuit says has a high potential for abuse. This lawsuit marks the first case brought by the state against a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey.
In an announcement, Grewal said Janssen “helped fuel a public health crisis unlike any other our state has faced.” He added that the public has a right to know about Janssen’s “efforts to mislead healthcare providers and patients.” Grewal said Janssen’s conduct in marketing the opioid medications was illegal and his office will fight to ensure that the information contained within the lawsuit remains open for the public to seek.
The lawsuit alleges that Janssen attempted to market its opioid products as safer and less addictive the competing opioids. As part of its marketing practices, the lawsuit alleges that Janssen used an unbranded marketing campaign to foment the idea that the opioid medications were not as addictive as suggested. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Janssen promoted a “bogus clinical theory” called pseudoaddiction that suggest signs of opioid addiction are “actually symptoms of having been under-treated for pain, and that the problem can be solved by simply increasing the patient’s opioid dosage.”
The deceptive marketing practices, the lawsuit says, increased health insurance costs that were absorbed by the state. Between 2010 and 2017, the complaint notes, the state spent an estimated $12.5 million on more than 41,000 claims for Nucynta or Nucynta ER submitted to its employee health plans. The state also claims that it paid out more than $800,000 to cover drug claims submitted to Medicaid.
“New Jersey’s pharmaceutical industry is the envy of the world, with a long history of developing vital, life-saving drugs. But we cannot turn a blind eye when a New Jersey company violates the law and threatens the lives of our residents. We intend to hold Janssen accountable for its deception, and to make the company pay for the public health crisis it helped to create,” Grewal said.
The 97-page complaint charges Janssen with violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the New Jersey False Claims Act, and the common-law prohibition against creation of a public nuisance. The complaint is seeking a judgment that will require the pharma company to pay civil penalties, pay damages for “false claims submitted to the state” and “disgorge its ill-gotten gains.” Under the New Jersey False Claims Act, Janssen is liable for three times the state’s damages, according to the attorney general’s office.
Earlier this year BioSpace highlighted a number of the lawsuits that have been filed against the opioid-makers. The arguments cited in the lawsuits typically say that the companies engaged in deceptive marketing practices that contributed to high addiction rates. Also, the lawsuits argue that the companies downplayed concerns over abuse, as well as allegations of complicity in the large amounts of opioids delivered to small-town pharmacies.