The state of New York has filed a civil fraud complaint against Johnson & Johnson, charging the pharmaceutical company and its subsidiaries of marketing opioid drug products while downplaying their risks.
The complaint, filed by the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), contends that the company specifically targeted elderly patients for opioid treatment despite known risks and used its marketing materials to brand opioid addiction as a myth.
"The opioid crisis has taken too many lives and New York state will continue to take action against those who helped fuel this public health catastrophe and bring a measure of justice to families who have lost loved ones," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "Misrepresentation of opioids to consumers for profit is inexcusable and we will use every tool necessary to help ensure those responsible are held fully accountable."
Johnson & Johnson did not immediately provide a comment or response to media outlets that requested one.
Regulators say Johnson & Johnson manufactured a number of opioid products in New York, including the Schedule II drugs Duragesic, a fentanyl patch, and Nucynta, a tapentadol drug. The state’s complaint also alleges that the drug company controlled a large portion of the raw opioid supply chain through its patented "Norman Poppy," which at one point was responsible for up to 80 percent of the global supply for oxycodone raw materials.
The crux of the DFS complaint claims that Johnson & Johnson has had a “long-standing and multi-faceted leading role in originating, supplying, facilitating, and actively creating a dangerous market for opioids for chronic pain treatment.”
The complaint alleges that Johnson & Johnson not only tried to sell more of its own opioid drug products but sought to create an environment in which the medical community was comfortable prescribing these powerful painkillers for patients, increasing the demand for Johnson & Johnson’s opioid-related raw materials.
Charged with violating insurance laws
The state is hanging its case on insurance laws, which may explain why the complaint originated at DFS and not the attorney general’s office. DFS charges Johnson & Johnson of violating two state statutes.
Section 403 of the New York Insurance Law prohibits fraudulent insurance acts, and Section 408 of the Financial Services Law prohibits intentional fraud or intentional misrepresentation of a material fact with respect to a financial product or service, which includes health insurance.
Those laws carry a penalty of up to $5,000 per violation, with the state alleging that each prescription found to be fraudulent constitutes a separate violation.
Johnson & Johnson has recently faced other opioid-related charges in other states, including Ohio and Oklahoma.