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WVa lawsuit against opioid makers set for April 2022 trial

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by the state of West Virginia accusing several drug manufacturers of misrepresenting the risks of their painkilling drugs will go to trial next April, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday.

The Mass Litigation Panel, a group of state judges in Kanawha County, granted a motion by the state to expedite the trial, Morrisey said in a news release. The lawsuits were previously filed separately in Boone County in August 2019.

Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Endo Health Solutions Inc. are accused of violating the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act and causing a public nuisance.

Morrisey says the companies engaged in strategic campaigns to deceive prescribers. The lawsuits allege the manufacturers’ conduct led to opioids becoming a common treatment for chronic pain and fueled substance abuse in West Virginia.

According to Morrisey, Teva is accused of telling doctors that patients could take increasingly strong opioids without disclosing the rising risk of addiction, and disguising its marketing efforts through third-party advocates and professional associations.

Johnson & Johnson, through Janssen, also allegedly downplayed the dangers of prescription pain pills by distributing patient education guides that sought to dispel the “myth” that opioids are addictive, Morrisey said.

Endo is accused of rebranding a drug from the 1960s linked to widespread abuse with a new name and color and misrepresenting a later version of the drug as tamper resistant.

Last year, Morrisey sued Walmart and drugstore chain CVS, saying they failed to monitor and report suspicious orders of prescription painkillers to their retail pharmacies.

In separate, similar lawsuits, the state reached a $37 million settlement with distributor McKesson Corp. in 2019, and $20 million with Cardinal Health Inc. and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen Drug Co. in 2017.

West Virginia leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths.

Last week, lawyers for state and local governments announced a potential $26 billion national settlement over the toll of opioids with AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson as well as drug-maker Johnson & Johnson.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 nationwide last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench trial wrapped up last week in federal court in Charleston in a lawsuit accusing AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson of fueling the opioid crisis in Cabell County and the city of Huntington. A verdict could come later this month.

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This version corrects in the headline that the trial will be in 2022, not 2021

John Raby, The Associated Press

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