West Virginia says J&J, drugmakers caused ‘tsunami’ of addiction

West Virginia’s per capita opioid mortality rate is nearly three times the national average, US data shows.

West Virginia’s attorney general on Monday urged a judge to hold Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, and AbbVie Inc’s Allergan liable for causing a “tsunami” of opioid addiction in the state.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said during his opening statement in Kanawha County Circuit Court that opioid addiction has affected the state’s police forces, hospitals, foster care system and jails, with effects that will linger for more than a generation.

“This epidemic has impacted virtually all of West Virginia,” Morrissey said. “Our lawsuit speaks for all West Virginians who have suffered due to the defendants’ unlawful, callous and destructive conduct.”

West Virginia has been hit hard by the epidemic, with a per capita opioid mortality rate nearly three times the national average in 2020, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

J&J and the three largest US drug distributors – AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp – have reached nationwide settlements worth $26bn to resolve state and local government opioid claims. West Virginia was one of five states that did not sign on to the J&J portion of that settlement.

West Virginia has accused the drug manufacturers of creating a “public nuisance” by deceiving prescribers about the risks of opioid painkillers and of violating the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

The companies’ marketing efforts caused opioids to become a common treatment for chronic pain in West Virginia, which led to an increase in substance abuse and overdose deaths, according to West Virginia’s complaint.

The companies have denied the allegations.

Morrisey said that he expects the trial before Judge Derek Swope will take up to two months.

Drugmaker Endo International Plc, which was a co-defendant in the case, reached a $26m settlement with West Virginia on March 30.

More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies over the crisis. There have been a wave of recent settlements over companies’ responsibility for the opioid epidemic.

Last month, Rhode Island and Florida struck settlements to resolve opioid litigation on the eve of trials. Rhode Island reached a deal valued at $107m with Teva and Allergan and Florida settled with Teva, CVS Health Corp, Allergan and Endo for a combined $878m.

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