Washington State sued Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, claiming the company was negligent when it used deceptive marketing to say the drugs were effective for treating pain and were unlikely to cause addiction.
The multinational company that supplies raw materials used to make opiates drove the pharmaceutical industry to recklessly expand the production of opioids to the point where there was more than a two-week supply of daily doses for every person in the state, the lawsuit says.
“The human toll is staggering,” state Attorney-General Bob Ferguson said at a news conference.
The lawsuit, which seeks civil penalties and damages, was filed in King County Superior Court. It says the company violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, was negligent and a public nuisance.
Washington is also asking that the company forfeit profits made in the state as a result of its behaviour.
Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc., a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary named in the lawsuit, said its opioid marketing was ”appropriate and responsible.”
“Janssen provided our prescription pain medicines for doctors treating patients suffering from severe pain and worked with regulators to ensure safe use – everything you’d expect a responsible company to do,” its statement said.
Mr. Ferguson said prescriptions and sales of opioids in Washington increased more than 500 per cent between 1997 and 2011. He said that in 2011, at the peak of sales, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed.
In November a judge in Oklahoma finalized an order directing Johnson & Johnson to pay that state US$465-million to address the opioid crisis.
The judge said the company and its subsidiaries helped fuel the crisis with an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.