New York Gov. Cuomo files fraud claim against Johnson & Johnson for opioid crisis

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday his administration’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) had filed a fraud claim against Johnson & Johnson for its part in the opioid epidemic.

Johnson & Johnson is the fourth company DFS has gone after in New York as part of its ongoing investigation into responsibility for the opioid crisis in the state.

DFS filed charges and started administrative proceedings against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. – collectively, “Johnson & Johnson.”

In court documents, the department said Johnson & Johnson misrepresented the safety of its opioid products and played a key role in creating the market for chronic pain treatment. DFS alleges that Johnson & Johnson marketed its Duragesic opioid medication specifically to elderly patients, while minimizing the risks; fraudulently characterized opioid addiction as “pseudoaddiction” that could be cured by even more opioid medication; ignored multiple warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the company was misrepresenting the addictive nature of Duragesic in its marketing; and developed a poppy in the 1990s that would become a key ingredient in oxycodone.

“To do so, among many other things, the entities and individuals misrepresented the safety and efficacy of their drugs in marketing materials and in communications to healthcare professionals,” DFS said in court records. “They downplayed the addictive nature of their products and actively promoted a discredited theory of ‘pseudoaddiction.’ They paid prominent doctors, advocacy groups, and professional associations vast sums of money to promote the use of opioids in areas that were not medically responsible. Moreover, they chose to look the other way when faced with blatant signs of over-prescription, abuse, and illegal diversion.”

As the department has done with other pharmaceuticals, DFS alleges that Johnson & Johnson violated two state codes – one for insurance fraud and one for financial services fraud. According to the department, each prescription for opioids constitutes one violation of insurance fraud, punishable by up to $5,000, and one violation of financial services law, also punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

In 2018, the CDC reported that NY saw 34 opioid prescriptions for every 100 of the state’s 19.53 million residents, the equivalent of roughly 6.6 million prescriptions – each of which could carry a combined penalty of $10,000.

“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,” Cuomo said. “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.”

The hearing on the charges is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2021, at the offices of the New York State Department of Financial Services.

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