Johnson and Johnson is best known for its baby hygiene products. Their marketing has built a brand centered on trust and safety; mothers can have faith that their babies can be powdered without rashes and shampooed without tears. But for the decades that Johnson and Johnson has been building customer loyalty, they have been betraying families’ trust all along.
Johnson and Johnson is currently being sued by the state of Oklahoma for fueling the deadly opioid crisis. Witnesses in the current J&J trial are describing how J&J pushed doctors to prescribe its opioids for unapproved medical conditions, even long after the devastating, addictive qualities of opioids had become well-known. Moreover, J&J’s sales reps’ notes revealed that J&J falsely informed doctors that their fentanyl-based patch had low abuse potential. As incriminating evidence is emerging, it is likely that J&J will lose this trial, leaving them to pay $13 billion to the state of Oklahoma.
The Johnson and Johnson (J&J) trial is happening in the wake of another recent opioid lawsuit: Insys Therapeutics versus the Department of Justice. Insys agreed to a $225 million settlement after evidence surfaced about Insys executives bribing doctors to prescribe Insys’s opioid, Subsys, to patients who did not need it. This settlement left Insys with no choice but to file for bankruptcy. With this announcement, Insys’s stock price plummeted, and hopes for justice rose.
The Insys lawsuit is far from being the only other lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company. In fact, over 1800 opioid-related lawsuits that have been recently filed by state and local governments. These lawsuits have been combined in a class action, and the trial is set to occur in Ohio this October. Thus, eyes across the nation are on the J&J trial, as the results could indicate how the 1800 other opioid-related lawsuits will play out. Public officials are hopeful, as settlements could allow state and local governments to recoup the billions of dollars in healthcare costs from the opioid epidemic.
Opioids and pharmaceuticals’ power have one similarity: they both can be abused. However, the magnitude of the current and upcoming lawsuits is proving that the era of pharmaceutical giants having unchecked power is coming to an end. And after these company executives are held accountable, public officials can finally stabilize America’s largest public health disaster and rebuild their communities.
Samhitha Sunkara is a rising Junior at Duke University. She is majoring in Economics and minoring in Computer Science. She is passionate about development economics and financial empowerment. On campus, she is involved with the Community Empowerment Fund, Duke Impact Investing Group, and Duke Women in Politics. In her free time, she dances on a Bhangra team and bullet journals. She is excited to be with Pilleve this summer and can't wait to explore D.C.!