Israeli Drug Company Agrees to Pay $85 Million
A second major pharmaceutical company has decided to settle a lawsuit in Oklahoma involving allegations the drug manufacturer wrongfully contributed to the nation’s growing opioid crisis. The announcement on Sunday, May 26, 2019, from the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, comes just months after Purdue Pharma entered into an agreement to pay $270 million for its role in the manufacture of Oxycontin. Legal authorities estimate that more than 1,800 similar lawsuits have been filed by state and municipal governments across the nation. Similar legal action has been filed by Native American tribes and other groups, as well.
The settlement comes at the 11th hour, as the trial naming TEVA and Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to start on Tuesday, May 28. The settlement includes a number of affiliated companies, including Cephalon, Inc., Watson Laboratories, Inc., Actavis LLC, and Activas Pharma, Inc. Representatives of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office say the case against Johnson & Johnson will move forward.
Though the drug manufacturers represent the deepest pockets of potential defendants, states like West Virginia have also named physicians, pharmacists and drug wholesalers as defendants. West Virginia suffers from the highest opioid overdose fatality rate in the nation, with approximately 35 per 100,000 residents.
The lawsuits all allege that the pharmaceutical companies, in collusion with doctors, pharmacists, and so-called “pill mills,” exploited patients, creating chemical dependency and addiction for profit. According to one report, nearly 800 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were sold in West Virginia alone over a six-year period.
Oklahoma Attorney General Hunter said that the money from the settlement will be used to fight the state’s burgeoning opioid problem, though he admits that the seemingly staggering amount is just a drop in the bucket, compared to what is needed to effectively deal with the crisis—an estimated $12.7 to $17.5 billion over the next two decades.
In a separate statement, TEVA, the world’s leading manufacturer of generic drugs, contended that the settlement did “not establish any wrongdoing on the party of the company” and that the pharmaceutical giant has not “contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.”
The Extent of the Opioid Crisis
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), opioid overdoses led to nearly 50,000 deaths in 2017 and more than 400,000 nationwide since 1999. Statistics indicate that more than a third of the fatal overdoses involved victims using prescription drugs. Over the last two decades, sales of prescription opioids have quadrupled, and so has the number of fatal overdoses. Polls indicate that one of every three Americans has been affected, directly or indirectly, by the easy availability of opioids. Furthermore, over half (57%) believe that pharmaceutical companies actively and intentionally encouraged and facilitated the crisis.