While opioid drugmakers have been sued plenty of times before, this week’s lawsuit from Ohio may prove a genuine threat to the companies involved, according to one influential analyst.
Bernstein’s Ronny Gal said the new lawsuit Ohio filed against Teva, Allergan, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue and Endo is “well written and well researched,” adding that it could potentially be duplicated by other states if it advances.
Ohio sued the companies on Wednesday for unlawful marketing contributing to the state’s devastating opioid and addiction epidemic. Gal notes that the suit will be “tough to win” for drugmakers.
He said some of the facts made him "cringe" and that drugmakers may find it difficult to convince a jury or judge in their favor when they hear about babies born with addiction or that in 2012 "the total number of opioid doses prescribed to Ohio patients soared to 793 million—enough to supply every man, woman and child in the state with 68 pills each."
Among other arguments, the lawsuit claims the drugmakers broke pharma marketing laws and “helped unleash” a “catastrophic” opioid crisis in the state. To do so, Ohio alleges, the companies worked individually and together to convince “key opinion leaders” and professional societies of the benefits of opioids in treating chronic pain, borrowing a page from the “Big Tobacco playbook.”
In their defense, the opioid drugmakers will likely dispute some of the facts and make the case that it wasn't their specific drug that caused so much harm, according to Gal.
Further, they could argue that they acted “within the law, within industry norms and with best understanding of the science available at the time,” the analyst wrote. Importantly, he noted, Bernstein didn’t tap expert legal counsel for its analysis; rather, it’s a “layperson view on legal matters.”
Responding to FiercePharma on the Ohio suit, a spokesperson for J&J’s Janssen unit said the company believes the “allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded.” A Purdue spokesperson said the company shares “concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”
Teva said it’s reviewing the complaint and can’t comment until that review is complete. Endo said it couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation; Allergan declined to comment.
As the nation grapples with a severe opioid crisis, the Ohio suit follows several others alleging unlawful pharma marketing from local and state governments, including the City of Chicago, counties in New York, plus Illinois and New Hampshire.
In Ohio, drug-related overdoses have been the leading cause of accidental deaths since 2007.