West Virginia will receive $99 million in a settlement finalized Monday with Johnson & Johnson's subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. over the drugmaker's role in perpetuating the opioid crisis in the state that has long led the nation in drug overdose deaths.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said during a news briefing that he believes West Virginia's settlement is the largest in the country per capita with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, which has faced opioid litigation in dozens of communities throughout the U.S.
The attorney general said the figure is reflective of the severity of the opioid crisis in West Virginia.
"We think it represents a major step forward to start to get money in the door to help West Virginians who have been devastated by the opioid epidemic," Morrisey said from his state Capitol office.
The settlement was announced at the start of the third week of testimony in the state's case against Janssen, Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., AbbVie Inc.'s Allergan and their family of companies. The companies are accused of downplaying or failing to mention the risks of addiction associated with opioid use in West Virginia while overstating the prescription drugs' benefits.
In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson and Janssen said the settlement is not an "admission of liability or wrongdoing" by the company.
"The company's actions relating to the marketing and promotion of important opioid prescription medications were appropriate and responsible," a news release read. The company no longer sells prescription opioid medications in the U.S., according to the release.
Morrisey said West Virginia's cities and counties could start seeing the settlement money within 45 days. The money will be used to help communities combat the opioid crisis. Meanwhile, he said the trial against Teva and Allergan is continuing as scheduled.
"We will have no delay in our pursuit of accountability against Teva and Allergan and we'll be back in court now," he said.
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Filed in 2019, the state's lawsuits accuse the companies of creating a public nuisance and violating the state's Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
Attorneys for the companies said during opening statements earlier this month that their individual products in question had considerably less than 1% of the market share in West Virginia, were medically necessary prescriptions and could not have contributed to the state's opioid problems.
But pharmaceutical marketing expert Matthew Perri testified that he "painstakingly" reviewed thousands of pages of marketing materials from the companies. He described a "paradigm shift" from the late 1990s to early 2000s in which the companies transitioned from marketing opioids as drugs designed for terminal cancer patients to drugs aimed at treating long-term pain.
Perri testified that marketing materials used by sales representatives described drugs as "safe and highly effective" at controlling pain and "improving functionality and quality of life" for patients.
"It took down the barriers that were there, and effectively lowered the bar" for the prescription of opioid medications, he said. "Opioids could be prescribed sooner in the treatment process, with less worry."