Drug companies win in California opioid crisis lawsuit

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California judge has ruled for top drug manufacturers as local governments seek billions of dollars to cover their costs from the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a tentative ruling on Monday that said the governments hadn’t proven the pharmaceutical companies used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance.

“There is simply no evidence to show that the rise in prescriptions was not the result of the medically appropriate provision of pain medications to patients in need,” Wilson wrote in a ruling of more than 40 pages.

“Any adverse downstream consequences flowing from medically appropriate prescriptions cannot constitute an actionable public nuisance,” the ruling said.

Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara counties and the city of Oakland argued that the pharmaceutical companies misled both doctors and patients by downplaying the risks of addictions, overdoses, deaths and other health complications while overstating the benefits for long-term health conditions.

OxyContin
FILE – This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. A federal bankruptcy judge is expected to rule Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, on whether to accept a settlement between OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, the states and thousands of local governments over an opioid crisis that has killed a half-million Americans over the last two decades. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

The plaintiffs said they were disappointed by the ruling but planned to appeal to “ensure no opioid manufacturer can engage in reckless corporate practices that compromise public health in the state for their own profit.”

The lawsuit names Johnson & Johnson, along with AbbVie Inc’s Allergan subsidiary, Endo International, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and others.

The companies had argued in court filings “that opioid medications are an appropriate treatment for many chronic-pain patients” and that much of their marketing mimicked approved warnings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Historically, the local jurisdictions say, the powerful drugs had been used only immediately after surgeries or for other acute, short-term pain, or for cancer or palliative care.

The drugmakers “successfully transformed the way doctors treat chronic pain, opening the floodgates of opioid prescribing and use,” the lawsuit contended. “This explosion in opioid prescriptions and use has padded Defendants’ profit margins at the expense of chronic pain patients.”

The federal government says nearly a half-million Americans have died from opioid abuse since 2001.

All sides have acknowledged that there is an opioid abuse epidemic.

Wilson said drug abuse hospitalizations and overdose deaths “starkly demonstrate the enormity of the ongoing problem.”

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said the “crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue,” but the decision showed it engaged in “appropriate and responsible” marketing of its prescription painkillers.

Endo International said the decision was “thorough and thoughtful” following months of testimony and that the company’s “lawful conduct did not cause the widespread public nuisance at issue” in the lawsuit.

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