Opioid Epidemic: NJ Pharmaceutical Companies

Pharmaceutical companies play an important role in the New Jersey economy. The companies employ thousands of people, and most pharma jobs come with great salaries.

The same companies that do so much good can also cause harm. Many New Jersey companies manufacture opioids, and those drugs are associated with overdoses and deaths in New Jersey.

The state is taking action. The New Jersey attorney general has filed suits against companies in New Jersey, and other organizations in other cities and countries have also been named in suits. The DA has also sued individuals, including many who live in New Jersey.

Successful lawsuits can mean more money for New Jersey’s anti-addiction programs. Residents can help in the fight against opioids with the decisions they make every day.

New Jersey Companies Included in Suits

We mentioned that the state’s attorney general has filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. In November 2018, the target of a suit was a New Jersey company.

The suit alleges that Janssen Pharmaceuticals:

  • Minimized risks. Marketing messaging didn’t explicitly suggest that opioid products could spark addiction.
  • Targeted vulnerable people. Messages were crafted with older people in mind.
  • Recruited doctors. Campaigns were designed to suggest that long-term opioid use was safe.

Reporters say this lawsuit is unusual in that the target plays a key role in the state’s economy. The attorney general makes it clear that any group could face a lawsuit, even if the company is important.

New Jersey officials aren’t afraid to use interesting language in their lawsuits. When paperwork was first filed in the Janssen Pharmaceuticals suit, authors suggested that the company was a “public nuisance” due to the role it played in the opioid crisis. That claim was dismissed in court, reporters point out.

New Jersey officials didn’t stop by filing suits against companies in the state. A separate flurry of suits filed in May 2019 target individuals, including five who live in the state. Those people played a role in the marketing, sales, and pricing of generic drugs. All medications, not just opioids, were included in this suit.

Refusing Settlements for Larger Lawsuits

New Jersey isn’t the only state turning to the courts for help in fighting opioid abuse. Many other states are also searching for relief, and in some cases, their claims are bundled together into one massive suit.

One such suit involved Purdue Pharma. The company offered bankruptcy as a way to settle claims, and about half of the affected states wanted to take the deal. New Jersey wasn’t one of them.

Reporters say New Jersey denied the settlement because the attorney general wanted stiffer penalties and an expression of guilt from the company. When neither was available, the state decided to keep pushing.

The New Jersey suit names members of the Sackler family. They own Purdue Pharma. Within the suit, officials allege that the company violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the state’s False Claims Act.

The details are murky, and if the case heads to courtrooms, much more will come to light. But New Jersey lawyers suggest that sales tactics could sit at the heart of the case. People working to sell opioids were asked to:

  • Set appointments. They were asked to meet with many doctors during every working day.
  • Encourage prescriptions. Doctors were encouraged to prescribe opioids for almost any kind of pain control.
  • Meet quotas. They needed to be part of 500 to 700 OxyContin and similar prescriptions each month.

Successful Suits Fund State Programs

There’s a lot to legislate in New Jersey. It’s reasonable to question why officials would expend so much time and energy on pharmaceutical cases. Money plays a major role. When the state wins cases, the funds can help people in desperate need.

In October 2019, New Jersey won a suit against an English pharmaceutical company. The total payout was $15 million, reporters say, and a chunk of that money will head into the state’s Medicaid coffers. That could help people get the care they need to fight back against an addiction in progress.

The state isn’t relying on lawsuits alone to deal with the opioid crisis. Legislation proposed by the governor would assess fees on companies that manufacture, sell, or deal opioids within the state. That money would help the state fund treatment programs for people in need.

How Will This Impact Industry?

It’s no secret that pharmaceutical companies drive the state’s economic engine. Officials will need to strike a balance between curbing harmful behavior and encouraging economic growth.

The New Jersey Business Action Center says that the state hosts 14 in 20 pharmaceutical companies, and the state’s taxes encourage research and development. Companies head to the state to set up large research facilities, so they can develop the drugs of the future.

In 2017, 3 percent of private sector workers held down jobs in the life sciences, says the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. These were well-paying jobs that represented 7.1 percent of total wages in the state.

If these jobs disappeared entirely, the state could struggle to make ends meet. But it’s important to remember that these companies do more than make painkillers. They also create diabetes drugs, heart medications, and cancer-stopping formulations. A shift to these other products could ensure that workers keep their jobs without harming others in the process.

What Can Consumers Do?

While legislators and officials are working hard to encourage New Jersey pharmaceutical companies to own up to past mistakes and focus on a healthy future, consumers have a role to play in curbing the opioid epidemic.

You can help by:

  • Asking for alternatives. When you’re hurt or ill, your doctor might suggest an opioid solution. Before you accept the pills, ask questions. Are there other substances you can take? What’s the shortest time period you should take the medications?
  • Spreading the word. In 2017, there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in New Jersey, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Many of them were attributed to fentanyl. It’s not uncommon for street drugs to come laced with this strong member of the opioid family. Residents need to start talking about this risk.
  • Accepting help. If you’re already using opioids, treatment programs may help. Talk to someone you trust about what’s happening and how you feel.

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