This article was originally published in The Guardian.
Oklahoma is holding the drug giant with the family-friendly image responsible for its addiction epidemic
Day after day, the memos flashing across screens in an Oklahoma courtroom have jarred with the family-friendly public image of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant best known for baby powder and Band-Aid.
In one missive, a sales representative dismissed a doctor’s fears that patients might become addicted to the company’s opioid painkillers by telling him those who didn’t die probably wouldn’t get hooked. Another proposes targeting sales of the powerfully addictive drugs at those most at risk: men under 40.
As the state of Oklahoma’s multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson has unfolded over the past month, the company has struggled to explain marketing strategies its accusers say dangerously misrepresented the risk of opioid addiction to doctors, manipulated medical research, and helped drive an epidemic that has claimed 400,000 lives over the past two decades.
Johnson & Johnson profited further as demand for opioids surged by buying poppy growing companies in Australia to supply the raw narcotic for its own medicines and other American drug makers.
One expert witness at the forefront of combatting the epidemic, Dr Andrew Kolodny, told the court he had little idea about Johnson & Johnson’s role until he saw the evidence in the case.
“I think it’s fair to characterize Johnson & Johnson as a kingpin in our opioid crisis,” he said.
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