West Virginia says J&J and drug makers have created a ‘tsunami’ of opioid addiction

April 4 (Reuters) – The West Virginia Attorney General on Monday urged a judge to hold Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd (TEVA.TA) and AbbVie Inc’s (ABBV.N) Allergen accountable for causing a “tsunami” of opioid addiction in the state.

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

“This outbreak has affected virtually all of West Virginia,” Morrissey said. “Our lawsuit speaks on behalf of all the people of West Virginia who have suffered as a result of the unlawful, ruthless and destructive conduct of the defendants.”

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West Virginia has been hit hard by the epidemic, with a per capita opioid death 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 U.S. drug distributors – AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and McKesson Corp (MCK.N) – have reached nationwide deals worth $26 billion to resolve state and local government opioid claims. West Virginia was one of five states that had not signed the J&J portion of this settlement.

West Virginia has accused drugmakers of creating a “public nuisance” by misleading prescribers about the risks of opioid painkillers and violating the state’s credit and consumer protection law.

The companies’ marketing efforts have made opioids a common treatment for chronic pain in West Virginia, leading to an increase in drug abuse and overdose deaths, according to the West Virginia complaint.

The companies have denied the allegations.

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

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

More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies during the crisis. There has been a flurry of recent regulations regarding corporate liability in the opioid epidemic.

Last month, Rhode Island and Florida reached agreements to resolve opioid disputes on the eve of trials. Rhode Island has reached a deal worth $107 million with Teva and Allergen and Florida has reached an agreement with Teva, CVS Health Corp (CVS.N), Allergan and Endo for a combined amount of $878 million .

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Reporting by Dietrich Knauth; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis and Bill Berkrot

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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