Texas Accuses Johnson & Johnson of Opioid-Related Fraud

The white specks next to the penny are 2 milligrams of fentanyl – a lethal dose for most people, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – One week after Oklahoma won $572 million in a case against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson for its role in the opioid crisis, Texas filed a nearly identical Medicaid fraud lawsuit against the company Wednesday claiming its sales representatives misled doctors about the addiction risks of the Duragesic opioid pain patch.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the company and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals in Travis County District Court, claiming they “targeted Texas Medicaid with a fraudulent marketing scheme” for the fentanyl-containing patches.

“Sales representatives told doctors Duragesic had fewer side effects, worked better, and posed less risk of addiction than other opioids, despite multiple [Food and Drug Administration] reprimands that those claims were false and misleading,” Paxton said in a written statement Wednesday. “As a result of these misrepresentations, Johnson & Johnson obtained the benefit of taxpayer-funded Texas Medicaid reimbursement for Duragesic while fueling our nation’s opioid epidemic.”

The 53-page complaint states that as a result, “Janssen obtained the benefit of virtually unfettered Medicaid reimbursements for Duragesic on the basis of fraudulent and unlawful misrepresentations” in violation of the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act. 

The patch was introduced in 1991 to treat cancer pain, but Texas claims that defendants “formulated their grand scheme” four years later to make it “their next blockbuster drug” to treat chronic pain and to “be the foundation of Janssen’s pain franchise.” 

Texas claims defendants set out to “educate” the medical community on a so-called “undertreatment” of pain.

“Defendants trained their sales force across the country to deliver these false and misleading messages to healthcare providers on every call, in order to differentiate Duragesic from the competition,” the complaint states. “Sales representatives were also provided with sales materials to show and/or leave behind with healthcare providers, which purported to provide support for the false and misleading messages being conveyed.”

When asked for comment Wednesday afternoon, Janssen said it has “deep sympathy for everyone affected” and that it recognizes “the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue.”

“We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need,” Janssen said. “Our prescription opioid medicines were responsibly promoted and the FDA-approved labels provide clear information about their risks and benefits.”

Janssen said that its Duragesic, Nucynta and Nucynta ER products have “accounted for less than one percent of total opioid prescriptions in the United States,” since their launch.

Paxton accuses the defendants of misleading the state and doctors about the dangers the drugs “in order to turn the greatest profit.”

“In this case, Johnson & Johnson not only defrauded Texas taxpayers and diverted precious healthcare dollars from Texans in need, they contributed to the opioid crisis that has destroyed the lives of an untold number of Texas families,” he said.

Texas seeks a jury trial and the repayment of all Medicaid money defendants received for the drug.

The lawsuit comes one week after an Oklahoma state judge awarded the state $572 million in the first opioid crisis-related  lawsuit in the country against a drugmaker to reach verdict. Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman ruled the state successfully proved  “the defendant’s misleading marketing and promotion of opioids created a nuisance” resulting in a “public health crisis that must be abated immediately.”

“They were told that the data they cited did not support their claims before they made them, and then again by the FDA after they had already started spreading that misleading message,” the judge wrote. “They knew the studies they were citing were incomplete, unsound, or fraught with misrepresentations. The defendants’ sales reps delivered those messages, and as the call notes and the sales trends demonstrate, Oklahoma physicians were influenced by the misleading messages defendants were delivering.”

Judge Balkman’s ruling will have wide-reaching implications in the thousands of opioid crisis lawsuits currently awaiting trial. Oklahoma sued Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharmaceuticals in 2017 on claims of fraud, unjust enrichment, public nuisance and violation of state Medicaid laws 

Purdue and its owners – the Sackler family – settled in March for $270 million. Israel-based Teva reached a similar settlement for $85 million in May.  Oklahoma eventually dropped all claims against Johnson & Johnson except its public nuisance claim to prevent further trial delays caused by defense appeals.

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