NJ says drug company lied about its opioids being safer
The state of New Jersey has filed a five-count lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, alleging it lied about 2 of its opioid painkillers to increase its bottom line.
The lawsuit targets statements the company made about Nucynta and Nucynta ER. According to State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Janssen deliberately misled the public about the dangers associated with the drugs, and helped to fuel what has become the worst public health crisis in New Jersey history.
By the end of this year, the opioid abuse overdose death rate in the Garden State is expected to top 3,000.
The lawsuit alleges Janssen “aggressively and deceptively marketed its prescription opioid products to the people of New Jersey, knowing full well it’s products carried a high risk for addiction and for abuse," Grewal said.
“Our lawsuit details a years-long scheme designed to deceive doctors and patients about two of the company’s opioid products.”
He said the company set up what amounted to bogus websites and paid doctors to make speeches in support of the opioid medications.
“We allege that Janssen masterminded a public relations campaign to undermine accepted medical practices and used a network of sales representatives to push its misleading marketing," Grewal said.
He said the suit alleges Janssen “quietly funded front organizations that peddled its bogus medical theories.”
Paul Rodriguez, the director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said the company routinely portrayed Nucynta and Nucynta ER as being unlike traditional opioids, claiming they were safer and less addictive than other opioids, “but Janssen’s statements were unsupported and misleading. There were no valid clinical studies to prove their claims.”
He said in reality “Nucynta and Nucynta ER are not milder and are not less addictive. They are narcotic drugs that have a high potential for abuse.”
Grewal said Janssen even went so far as to target elderly nursing home and hospital patients with its misinformation.
The 97-page complaint, filed in Mercer County Superior Court, charges multiple violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the New Jersey False Claims Act and the common-law prohibition against the creation of a public nuisance.
The suit asks for an unspecified amount of money in civil penalties, and damages for false claims.
Additionally the suit seeks to require that the company halts all unlawful practices under the Consumer Fraud Act, correct its misrepresentations, and “abate the public nuisance that its deceptive marketing has been a substantial factor in creating.”
Grewal added many internal company documents have not been made public, but the State is asking the court to allow them to published.
He said the company earned huge amounts of money on its opioid medications, then the company “cashed in one last time in 2015 when it sold the rights to Nucynta and Nucynta ER, collecting more than a billion dollars in the process.”
He pointed out this is the third lawsuit his office has brought against a pharmaceutical company, and said the message being sent it clear.
“If you violate our laws, if you illegally push opioids for profit, we will hold you accountable, no matter who you are, and no matter where you operate," Grewal said. “We’ll hold you accountable whether you’re breaking the law on a street corner, in an exam room or in a corner office.”
When asked to comment on the lawsuit and its damaging allegations, a spokesperson for Janssen Pharmaceuticals issued a statement that says:
Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, since 2008, our opioid medications have accounted for less than one percent of the U.S. market for this class of medications (including generics).
"Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis."
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com