Aug 27, 2019

The first big opioids verdict is both big and small

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Johnson & Johnson has officially been found liable in Oklahoma for deceptive and false marketing of opioids — the first major instance of legal accountability for the opioid epidemic.

Yes, but: If Oklahoma's $572 million judgment is a sign of things to come, states may only be looking at short-term relief — and drug companies may only incur short-term annoyances, rather than crippling penalties.

The big picture: Judge Thad Balkman wrote in his decision that J&J "pervasively, systemically and substantially" created a public nuisance by falsely promoting its opioids as safe and necessary, which led to massive overprescribing and addiction.

  • Oklahoma had claimed J&J was the opioid "kingpin."

Why it matters: "This is the first time ... that a pharmaceutical company has been found responsible in the court of law for causing the opioid crisis," said Andrew Kolodny, a doctor and opioid researcher who was a key witness for Oklahoma in the case. "This is a landmark decision."

Between the lines: $572 million is just the 1-year cost of abating Oklahoma's opioid crisis, the ruling says.

  • The state wanted $17 billion, but the judge said it didn't present enough evidence to validate a longer-term payout. One year of addiction treatment services and other programs is a Band-Aid.
  • The judgment is less than 4% of J&J's net profit from 2018, and significancly less than the $2 billion some Wall Street analysts expected J&J to end up paying — and that's why shares of J&J and other related companies soared in after-hours trading.
  • If this case is used as a benchmark in the national lawsuit, J&J likely would pay billions — but again, not an insurmountable amount for a company that brings in more than $80 billion of sales annually.

What they're saying: J&J plans to appeal, saying in a statement the judge's decision was "flawed" and that it is ready to extend this fight into 2021.

  • Wall Street prognosticator Kevin O'Leary, among others, has urged J&J and other companies to "fight like hell through the litigation."

Go deeper

Drug companies in massive opioids lawsuit call for judge's removal over bias

Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm protest on Sept. 12 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Drug companies in a massive legal battle over their alleged roles in fueling the opioid epidemic are calling for the federal judge in their case to be removed over the appearance of bias, the Washington Post reports.

Where it stands: These drug companies, which face thousands of lawsuits from cities and other communities, are scheduled for trial Oct. 21. The drug companies are "questioning" U.S. District Judge Dan Polster's "impartiality because he has consistently urged both sides to settle the case," per the Post.

Go deeperArrowSep 14, 2019

Opioid manufacturers have a new market: India

As opioid manufacturers sort through their share of lawsuits in the U.S., those companies are fueling the rise of India's painkiller market, the Guardian reports with Kaiser Health News.

The big picture: Indians have in the past viewed pain as something to be suffered through, but that mindset is changing, and the result is eerily similar to the early stages of what Americans now consider a crisis.

Go deeperArrowAug 28, 2019

How to make methadone more available

Methadose tablets, the concentrated form of methadone. Photo: Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

As the opioid epidemic rages on, methadone — 1 of 3 approved medications to treat opioid use disorder — can be hard to come by, according to a new article in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: Although it's effective, it's heavily regulated and can only be obtained at opioid treatment programs. These are subject to strict federal, state and even local rules. But many communities don't have enough treatment programs to meet the demand for them.

Go deeperArrowSep 24, 2019