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Beshear sues pharmaceutical company over deceptive marketing, fueling Kentucky’s opioid epidemic

Wall Street Journal

Attorney General Andy Beshear has filed a lawsuit to hold a New Jersey pharmaceutical manufacturer accountable for contributing to an illicit drug market that fueled Kentucky’s opioid epidemic.

In the lawsuit filed in McCracken Circuit Court, Beshear alleges Johnson & Johnson, and its Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Ortho-McNeil subsidiaries, devised a deceptive marketing scheme in order to generate higher profits from their opioid drugs Duragesic, Nucynta and Nucynta ER. 

Janssen allegedly told doctors and patients that their opioid medications were safer than other alternatives, and misrepresented that opioids were “rarely addictive” when used for chronic pain.

Beshear said the company specifically targeted elderly patients, knowing the population had a higher risk of addiction, adverse effects, hospitalization and death.

“Today’s action against Janssen is the fifth lawsuit I have filed in our ongoing fight to combat the state’s opioid epidemic,” Beshear said. “Janssen has profited from their illegal conduct, and my office is taking action to make sure they pay for ravaging our communities and destroying our families just to make a profit.”

During the time Janssen was allegedly mischaracterizing the risk of opioid abuse and addiction, the overall sales of prescription drugs in Kentucky skyrocketed. From 2006 to 2015, the Commonwealth had more opioid prescriptions than people and the state ranked sixth in the nation in opioid-related deaths.

Beshear said he is seeking civil penalties and compensatory and punitive damages from Johnson and Johnson and subsidiaries for violating Kentucky’s Consumer Protection Act and the Kentucky Medicaid and the Kentucky Assistance Program fraud statutes.

“While the pain of addiction and loss of a loved one may never heal, I want to make sure these pharmaceutical companies take responsibility and help us repair the devastation caused by their actions,” said Beshear.

Other states that have sued Janssen include Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Since taking office Beshear has been working to hold opioid manufactures and distributors that contributed to the opioid epidemic accountable and find workable solutions to the drug epidemic.

The action is the fifth opioid related lawsuit Beshear has filed.

In November 2017, Beshear’s first filed suit against manufacturer Endo Pharmaceuticals regarding its drug Opana ER. The suit alleges Endo violated state law and directly contributed to opioid related deaths and overdoses in Kentucky.

This year, Beshear has also sued three national opioid distributors, Pennsylvania-based AmerisourceBergen, Ohio-based Cardinal Health and San Francisco-based McKesson Corporation, which together are responsible for supplying 85 percent of opioids in Kentucky.

As the lawsuits progress, Beshear said his main priority is to make sure these drug companies are hauled into a Kentucky court and held accountable to those they have harmed – the people of Kentucky.

Beshear’s office also works to combat illegal drug use and abuse in Kentucky communities. Investigators from the Office of the Attorney General are assigned to the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA). HIDTA provides resources to areas that exhibited serious drug trafficking problems to help eliminate or reduce drug trafficking and its damaging effects.

The Appalachia HIDTA consists of counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

In August 2017, Beshear launched the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program, the state’s first initiative to allow Kentuckians to safely dispose of opioid medications at home. The pilot program includes Henderson, Floyd, McCracken and Perry counties. Beshear’s Office of Senior Protection is also working with the faith-based community to distribute the pouches at senior events.

In total, the program has the potential to dispose of more than 2.2 million unused opioids.

Last month, Beshear joined CVS Health to launch safe medication disposal programs in Kentucky. The in-store safe disposal units are now in nine 24-hour CVS Pharmacy locations in Elizabethtown, Frankfort, Georgetown, Lexington, Louisville and Paducah.

By cleaning out medicine cabinets and disposing of unused prescription drugs at a CVS Pharmacy, Kentuckians can help reduce the nearly 80 percent of heroin users who begin their addiction with prescription drugs.

(provided by Office of the Attorney General)

Paul Hitchcock earned his Masters in Communications from Morehead State University and Bachelors in Radio-TV/Psychology from Georgetown College. A veteran broadcaster for more than 40 years and an avid fan of blues, jazz and American roots music. Hitchcock has been with WMKY since 1986 and was named General Manager in 2003. He currently hosts "Muddy Bottom Blues" (Fri., 8pm-9pm), "Nothin' But The Blues" (Sat., 8pm-12am), "Sunday Night Jazz Showcase" and "Live From The Jazz Lounge" (Sun., 8pm-9pm) and "The Golden Age of Radio" (Sun., 2pm-3pm). He also serves as producer for "A Time For Tales" and "The Reader's Notebook."
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