The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has agreed to pay 230 million dollars to the State of New York to resolve a lawsuit by the Prosecutor’s Office for its responsibility in the crisis of opioids – powerful painkillers derived from synthetic opium – in the United States. The pact entails the suspension throughout the country of the production and sale of its opiate drugs, as well as continuing payments to the State for the next nine years.
The agreement is the umpteenth chapter in a long series of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies responsible for causing the worst public health crisis in the US between that of AIDS and the coronavirus pandemic. Mainly in the pillory is Purdue Pharma, which is credited with the most active and devastating role in the addiction epidemic that has killed more than half a million Americans between 1999 and 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Control. Disease Prevention (CDC).
The attorney general of New York, Letitia James, had filed a lawsuit two years ago against several manufacturers and distributors. The settlement with J&J comes just days before the trial for its role in the addiction crisis begins. Therefore, J&J will be left out of the judicial process, which will begin this Monday in a Long Island court. J&J, however, has pending lawsuits in other parts of the country. It is not the first millionaire disbursement for the pharmaceutical giant, which at the beginning of the month saw how the Supreme Court confirmed the sanction of 2 billion dollars for the cases of cancer caused by its talcum powder.
“The opioid epidemic has devastated countless communities in New York State and the rest of the nation, turning millions of people addicted to dangerous and deadly opioids,” Prosecutor James explained in a statement. “Johnson & Johnson helped fuel this fire, but today it is pledging to get out of the opioid business not just in New York, but the entire country. Opioids will no longer be manufactured or sold in the US by J&J. “
Much less prescribed than Oxycontin -the most widely distributed opioid, from Purdue Pharma, marketed in Spain as Oxycodone-, the two J&J drugs “designed to help patients suffering from pain”, with the trade names Duragesic and and Nucynta, have meant according to James “less than 1% of total prescriptions” for opiates in the US since its launch.
New York State is studying the creation of a compensatory fund for victims and communities affected by the epidemic. The amount of the fine agreed with J&J will be used to finance prevention, treatment and education campaigns against the use of these substances.
In addition to J&J, and the aforementioned Purdue Pharma – which was filed for bankruptcy in which many see an attempt at restructuring – a large number of counties, municipalities and states throughout the country have sued the pharmaceutical companies involved in the opioid crisis. The amount of the total agreement to close the case rises to more than 26,000 million dollars, according to the newspaper The Wall Street Journal. The companies McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health participate in the negotiations, which together distribute most of the drugs sold in the country, together with J&J. Purdue Pharma offered an agreement last March to settle billion-dollar lawsuits.
The agreements between pharmaceutical companies and authorities have increased in recent weeks as a result of the initiation of separate trials in the states of California and West Virginia, according to sources consulted by the newspaper. However, the one reached by J&J and the New York prosecutor’s office does not imply “admission of responsibility for irregularities,” says the information portal Insider. “Actions related to the marketing and promotion of important prescribed analgesics [por los médicos] they were appropriate and responsible ”, has communicated J&J. The pharmaceutical industry giant was precisely the subject of the first trial in the country for the opioid crisis, in 2019 in Oklahoma, and resulted in a fine of 465 million dollars that the firm has appealed, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Although the pandemic has monopolized all health information in the last year, the current situation of the devastating opioid crisis does not wane. An HBO documentary about the Sacker family, owners of Purdue Pharma, and a book about their rise and fall – with the interested competition of the health system, whose officials looked the other way for years – add to the devastating account of what has supposed the epidemic of addictions in a specific segment of the American population: the white working class. It’s about the book Deaths from despair and the future of capitalism, by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.