Opioids

Landmark $572 million opioids verdict: Where the money should go

What’s the news: Johnson & Johnson Inc. (J&J) has been ordered to pay more than $572.1 million towards an opioid abatement plan for the state of Oklahoma.

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The company was found in violation of state nuisance codes by Cleveland County (Oklahoma) District Judge Thad Balkman, who said he based his decision on the finding that the company’s “false, misleading, and dangerous marketing campaigns have caused exponentially increasing rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

Both the AMA and the American Bar Association are advocating that any settlement or judgment stemming from opioid-related litigation be used for treatment or other related activities to mitigate the harm resulting from the opioid epidemic. Many elements of the order align with the AMA and ABA’s recommendations.

Why it matters to patients and physicians: Funds paid to states as a result of settlements or judgments in opioid litigation should “be used exclusively for research, education, prevention, and treatment of overdose, opioid-use disorder, and pain,” the AMA’s policy says. The policy, “Holding the Pharmaceutical Industry Accountable for Opioid-Related Costs,” was adopted at the 2019 AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

The ABA calls for using settlement or judgment money to fund treatment, housing, social-service resources, research, education, reducing opioid-use disorder (OUD) stigma and “improving the health care infrastructure” to increase the capacity for OUD treatment.

Judge Balkman’s abatement plan would fund pain prevention and nonopioid pain-management therapies, expanded and targeted naloxone distribution, education, and comprehensive treatment for OUD including assessment and in- and outpatient services based on guidelines from the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

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What’s next: J&J announced it will appeal the decision and that it will move to stay enforcement of the decision pending resolution of the appeal.

A federal lawsuit consolidating multiple claims and involving multiple defendants is scheduled to start Oct. 21, in Cleveland, Ohio-based U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio.

J&J, along with other drugmakers, wholesalers and distributors, have been named in more than 2,000 lawsuits, and J&J said it “remains open to viable options to resolve these cases, including through settlement.”