New Jersey officials, taking on one of the state’s core industries, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures opioids, accusing the pharmaceutical company of misleading patients about the addictive dangers posed by its drugs.
It was the first time that New Jersey has brought legal action against a company based in the state as it struggles to contain a spiraling opioid addiction crisis. And it comes at a time when state attorneys general across the country have intensified their efforts to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the epidemics of abuse.
Gurbir Grewal, the New Jersey attorney general, said the subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, minimized the risks of opioid addiction in its marketing messages, targeted older people and other patients with little knowledge of opioids and mounted a campaign to “embed its deceptions about the viability of long-term opioid use in the minds of doctors and patients.”
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In the absence of any significant federal action to stem the opioid epidemic, states have been leading the charge to grapple with a health crisis that has yet to be contained. In 2017, there were more than 72,000 overdose deaths in the country from opioids, a 10 percent rise from the previous year.
More than 40 state attorneys general have joined New York state in a multiyear, wide-ranging investigation of manufacturers and distributors of opioids. Eleven states, including New Jersey, have filed separate lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, a popular opioid painkiller.
“It became a state issue because there wasn’t a lot of movement on the federal level,” said Lewis S. Nelson, the chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers University. “To this date, the federal government hasn’t been very effective at regulating the practices of these pharmaceutical companies.”
In addition to the human toll, the opioid crisis has also imposed a significant financial burden that has been largely shouldered by states, Dr. Nelson said, including paying for hospital bills, drug courts and emergency response.
In New Jersey, the state also pays for opioids through public employee health plans, according to the lawsuit. New Jersey spent $178 million between 2010 and 2017 for opioid prescriptions submitted to employee health plans, according to the attorney general’s office.
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