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United States: first fine of $ 572 million in the opiate crisis


The pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is accused of promoting dependence on pain medication through deceptive promotional campaigns.

Judge Thad Balkman said the Johnson & Johnson group adopted "misleading marketing and opiate promotion" practices to create an addiction on Monday, Aug. 26, in Norman, Oklahoma. Sue Ogrocki / AP

This is a legal first in the United States. A court on Monday (August 26th) sentenced the Johnson & Johnson group to pay 572 million dollars (about 515 million euros) to the state of Oklahoma for its responsibility in the opiate crisis. Never before has a civil judgment condemned a laboratory for this large-scale case that has left tens of thousands of people dead by overdose.

"The opiate crisis is an imminent danger for Oklahoma and its people," Judge Thad Balkman told a hearing Monday in Norman, after two months of trial. The judge found Janssen's pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson had adopted "misleading marketing and opioid promotion" practices , causing a crisis of dependence on these pain medications, as well as overdose deaths and Increased neonatal abstinence syndromes in the state - that is, when a baby is born addicted to drugs because of exposure during pregnancy.

"The opiate crisis ravaged the state of Oklahoma. It must be contained immediately, " continued the judge, basing his judgment on a law against " public nuisance " . The half a billion dollars asked to Johnson & Johnson will be used to finance programs in the state to remedy the crisis.

Read also United States: five laboratories prosecuted for concealing side effects of painkillers

A "pseudo-addiction"

The pharmaceutical group immediately announced that it would appeal. "Janssen did not provoke the opiate crisis in Oklahoma," said Michael Ullmann, vice president and legal director of Johnson & Johnson. The company estimates that it has complied with the law and recalls that its medicines only accounted for 1% of the opiate market. Janssen distributes the Nucynta tablets and the Duragesic patch, which contains fentanyl, one of the most powerful synthetic opiates, that the lab has invented.

Initially, the patch was prescribed to cancer patients for acute pain. But the laboratory is accused of having created demand through a major campaign among doctors, through marketing, research funding and "education" and training events. The laboratory has, over the years, tried to convince them, apparently successfully, that its drugs do not create dependency.

Read also Opioid crisis in the United States: pharmaceutical officials prosecuted

The industry "used the term " pseudo-addiction " to persuade doctors that patients who showed signs of addiction, for example by asking for higher doses of opiates or returning to the doctor before 'theoretical exhaustion of the previous order, did not really suffer from addiction, but in fact under-treatment of pain ,' concluded the judge. "The solution, according to the marketing of the defendants, was to prescribe more opiates to the patient ," he wrote in his judgment.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Opiates: Portrait of an America adrift

Forty-seven thousand deaths by overdose in 2017

Several laboratories were pursued by the state, but the others had preferred to settle the case amicably, especially the group at the heart of the epidemic: Purdue Pharma, seller of the notorious OxyContin. Purdue settled $ 270 million before the trial. Another laboratory, Israel's Teva, has also negotiated a $ 85 million settlement.

The lawsuit was compared to lawsuits against tobacco companies that resulted in an agreement of more than $ 200 billion in 1998. Opiates were responsible for 47,000 overdose deaths in 2017 in the United States. But while the state had asked for $ 17 billion, the judge granted a more modest sum.

Beyond this procedure, nearly 2,000 other complaints have been filed against opiate drug manufacturers in various jurisdictions in the United States.

Read also Analgesics: disturbing figures of opioid addiction in France

Source: lemonde

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