Pharmaceutical company found liable in 6-month opioid trial

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NEW YORK – A jury ruled on Thursday that opioid maker and distributor Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. contributed to a public nuisance by flooding New York City with pills that have killed thousands of people.

Teva and a handful of its subsidiaries have been found responsible in a six-month lawsuit that sought to consider the role the pharmaceutical industry played in the opioid epidemic in two hard-hit counties in New York and across the state.

New York State was also found partially responsible. A separate trial will follow to determine what Teva will have to pay in the case.

Israel-based Teva, which makes drugs using the potent opioid fentanyl, said it “strongly disagrees” with the verdict and plans to appeal.

“The plaintiffs have presented no evidence of medically unnecessary prescriptions, suspicious or diverted orders, no evidence of oversupply” by Teva and have not shown that Teva’s marketing has harmed New Yorkers, the company said in a statement. He also pleads for the cancellation of the trial.

The lawsuit began in June and was jointly supported by New York State and the counties of Suffolk and Nassau. The case began with more than two dozen defendants and was the first of its kind to target the entire opioid supply chain: the drug companies that made pain relievers, the drug distributors and drug chains. pharmacies that filled prescriptions. By the time the jury’s deliberations began, he had been reduced to a handful of defendants, all from Teva Pharmaceuticals.

“The trial itself spanned four seasons. We started in the spring, in the summer and of course now we are in the winter,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo said before the announcement of the verdict. “It was an ultramarathon.

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The case was initially so large that the trial was to be held in the auditorium of a Long Island law school. There was no courtroom at Central Islip large enough to accommodate all of the accused and their legal teams.

The six-member jury was asked to determine whether the companies had played a role in perpetuating an ongoing public nuisance, a specific type of legal claim used in many opioid-related lawsuits to describe the crisis which, over the course of the last decade, has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Teva is known to make generic drugs, but the trial focused on Actiq and Fentora, two brand-name fentanyl drugs approved for certain cancer patients. Teva has repeatedly promoted them more widely for other types of pain, in a “deceptive and dangerous marketing strategy,” the lawsuit said.

“They are trying to say that they are selling legal products. The only problem is that they are selling them illegally,” attorney Hunter Shkolnik, who represented Nassau County, told a virtual press conference Thursday. “The jury saw that what they are doing is wrong.”

Last year, more than 100,000 people – a record number – died from overdoses of opioids, especially black market fentanyl, according to provisional 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Days before the New York trial began, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $ 230 million, and over the months almost all of the defendants in the case agreed to multi-million dollar settlements.

They included three major drug distributors, which settled in July for over $ 1 billion combined. The settlement was part of a larger $ 26 billion deal in which companies facing lawsuits for their role in the opioid crisis agreed to settle all of more than 3,000 lawsuits against them. by counties, states and tribes across the country.

As the trial drew to a close, there were more regulations. Earlier this month, just before oral argument began, Allergan, a pharmaceutical company whose best-known product is Botox, was circumcised after agreeing to a $ 200 million settlement.

The money from the settlements will be distributed to communities affected by the opioid epidemic to be used for drug treatment and prevention programs. If certain conditions are met, the combined amount could reach $ 1.7 billion.

The series of deals left only one branded and generic opioid maker, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and a handful of its associated companies, and Anda, a drugstore distributor that is a subsidiary of Teva, on trial.

During the trial, attorneys for Suffolk and Nassau counties and upstate New York showed jury videos that a company created for an inside sales conference. In the videos, the executives spoofed film scenes including “Austin Powers” where, in the voice of villainous Dr. Evil, one of them discussed pushing doctors to prescribe their opioid rather than the drug. a competitor’s product. In another, a VP of sales is pinned down in a scene from “A Few Good Men,” explaining that sales reps have quotas: “You can’t handle the truth,” he says in part. “Quotas must be exceeded.”

On December 13, attorneys for parent company Teva filed a motion to quash the trial, claiming in part that attorneys for Suffolk County and New York State had falsely suggested to the jury that the content of the video was emblematic of the company. coaching.

A lawyer for Teva, Harvey Bartle IV, of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, said the videos were not training videos but parodies, simply meant to be humorous. In requesting that the trial be set aside, Bartle argued that the plaintiffs’ characterization of the videos violated a previous order by Garguilo to allow the videos to be released only as parodies.

“Enough is enough. Four years of hard work by this tribunal and the parties, and six months of unprecedented sacrifice by this jury are now in vain,” Teva’s lawyers wrote in court.

But the request to quash the trial was not accepted and the jury began deliberating on December 14.

The US-listed Teva share price fell after the verdict was announced, ending down 6.3% to $ 7.90.

Information for this article was provided by Sarah Maslin Nir, Jan Hoffman, and Lola Fadulu of the New York Times; and by Jennifer Peltz and Deepti Hajela of the Associated Press.


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