Wash. AG sues Johnson & Johnson over state’s opioid epidemic

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Washington Attorney General's Office
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. 

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit Thursday against Johnson & Johnson in connection to the state’s opioid epidemic.

According to a release from the AG’s Office, Ferguson has accused the medical supplier of playing a key role in driving the entire pharmaeutical industry to “vastly expand the use of prescription opioids.”

In the lawsuit, Ferguson also asserted that Johnson & Johnson, along with several of its subsidiaries, fueled Washington state’s opioid epidemic by embarking on a massive “deceptive marketing campaign and convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction, contrary to overwhelming evidence.’

The release from Ferguson’s office said Johnson & Johnson cultivated and processed opium poppy plants and used their raw narcotic materials to manufacture the active ingredients necessary to produce opioid drugs between from the 1990s until at least 2016. Ferguson claimed the raw materials were processed into active pharmaceutical ingredients necessary to manufacture opioids.

Ferguson said Johnson & Johnson also sold those active ingredients — including oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and naloxone — to other opioid manufacturers.

Ferguson has also accused the company of using both branded and unbranded marketing to mislead health care providers and patients about the risks of addiction to opioids.

According to the release, perscriptions and sales of opioids in Washington increased by more than 500 perecent between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state.

Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks civil penalties and damages. Ferugson has asked the court to order Johnson & Johnson to give up the profits it made in Washington as a result of its “illegal conduct.”

Ferguson said it is believed the company has made billions of dollars selling opioids and raw materials, with Washington’s portion expected to be in the millions.