A doctor testified on Tuesday that the country had become ‘flooded with opioids’ and the death toll was ‘enormous’ as a result at a landmark trial against a pharmaceutical giant blamed for causing the health crisis.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny is among the state’s witnesses at the Oklahoma trial against Johnson and Johnson.
He is the co-director of Opioid Policy Research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and has spent years researching the crisis.
The state is suing J&J, claiming it deceitfully marketed addictive painkilling drugs without sufficiently warning doctors or patients of the risk.
Two other pharmaceutical giants, Teva and Purdue, were also being sued but they settled with the state before the trial began.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny testified on Tuesday that America had been ‘flooded’ with opioids since 1996. He is among the state’s witnesses in a trial in Oklahoma against the pharma giant Johnson& Johnson
So far over the last three weeks, the jury has heard from the father of a college football player who died from a cocktail of prescription pills and from health experts.
On Tuesday, Dr. Kodogny took the stand to lay the crisis bare.
He believes it began when prescribing practices changed in 1996 and that J&J did ‘everything’ it could to take advantage of it.
‘We destroyed the dam of narcotic conservatism, and we flooded the country with opioids,’ he said, adding that he’d had a ‘front row seat’ to the problem getting ‘worse and worse’.
‘The opioid crisis is, I think, the most significant public health crisis our country has faced possibly in its history — certainly since the Spanish flu epidemic.
‘The death toll is enormous,’ he said.
Dr. Kolodny said he at first attributed most of the blame for the problem with Purdue and Teva but that after reviewing documents submitted as evidence for the trial, he now felt J&J was as much to blame.
‘I really was not aware of how bad Johnson & Johnson was or how big of a player they’ve been in this whole crisis,’ he said.
Johnson & Johnson makes Duragesic, a fentanyl patch, but it says it is not widely abused
The defense tried to question his expertise and say he was not a pain specialist or doctor.
The prosecution chipped away at their argument by pointing out the fact that none of the sales people hired by J&J to sell their products were either.
Earlier, the trial heard from a woman named as ‘the face’ of the company who led and trained marketing teams for years.
She testified that the prosecutors were trying to make ‘marketing’ sound like a ‘dirty term’ when it was not.
At the beginning of the trial, the father of a 22-year-old who died from a cocktail of prescription pills, also testified.
Craig Box took the stand to speak about his son, Austin, who died in 2011 with five painkillers in his system.
Box was a football player for the Oklahoma Sooners but after a series of injuries including a herniated disc, he died by accidentally overdosing on a combination of five prescription painkillers and an anti-anxiety medication.
They were oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone. He also had taken the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam.
THE COMPANIES THAT SETTLED TO AVOID TRIAL
Purdue, which produces the drug OxyContin and is run by the Sackler family of New York, gave Oklahoma $270million in a settlement.
It denies that it is to blame for the nation’s opioid crisis.
However, in its statement after the settlement was reached, the company said: ‘Purdue is very pleased to have reached an agreement with Oklahoma that will help those who are battling addiction now and in the future.’
Teva, which is based in Israel, agreed to pay $80million just days before the trial began.
It had been named as a defendant alongside Purdue and Johnson & Johnson and fought until the last minute.
Teva makes generic drugs and sells them around the world.
His father cried as he told how he and his wife had ‘no idea’ their son was using the drugs.
‘We never suspected anything.
‘In 2011, the crisis that everybody calls it now, nobody knew about it.
‘What we’ve learned is that Austin must have been getting them from the street or wherever.
‘You don’t have to look far to find them.
‘You don’t need to have a prescription,’ he said – chipping into the defense’s argument that it is the fault of doctors over-prescribing the drugs to the public and not their fault for making them in the first place.
‘They’re just everywhere,’ he said.
Johnson & Johnson is fighting against the criticism.
Its lawyers argue that the industry is heavily regulated and that if anyone is to blame for the crisis, it should be the doctors over-prescribing the drugs to vulnerable patients.
It also says there is no proof that its drug – Duragesic, a fentanyl patch – is widely abused.
Prosecutors say that the companies manufactured the crisis out of greed and used deceitful tactics to get their drugs to market and profit.
The case is being heard by a judge instead of a jury. It is a civil case which could end in a historic settlement.
Purdue, which makes the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, has already agreed to pay the state of Oklahoma $270million. Teva has agreed to pay $85million.