Catch of the Week: Jury Finds Teva Pharmaceuticals Liable for Contributing to Opioid-Related Deaths in New York State
In a significant development in the ongoing effort to assess blame and responsibility for the opioid epidemic, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of individuals and ravaged communities throughout the United States, on December 30th, after a six-month trial, a New York jury found that Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. (“Teva”) and its affiliates, including Anda Inc., created a “public nuisance” in two counties on Long Island by the manner in which they marketed and distributed their opioid painkillers.
As reported in the New York Times, this was only the second opioid-related lawsuit to reach a jury verdict. Last month, a federal jury in Ohio found three retail pharmacy chains liable for their role in the epidemic. Previously, in 2019, a judge in Oklahoma ruled against Johnson & Johnson for contributing to the opioid epidemic in that state. But last November, that ruling was overturned on appeal. And the same month, in a separate opioid case, a California state judge rejected “public nuisance” claims brought by three counties and the city of Oakland against four pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Teva.
Setting aside the mixed litigation results elsewhere in the country, New York Attorney General Letitia James celebrated the jury verdict in the New York case. In a press release, she called it a “significant day” for New York state and the nation, and “a significant step in righting the wrongs this country has collectively experienced over the last two decades.”
The New York complaint was filed in March 2019 against multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy chains. Prior to the jury verdict, all but Teva and its affiliates settled. In June of last year, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $230 million. In July, three-drug distributors agreed to pay more than $1 billion. In September, Endo agreed to pay at least $50 million. And in December, Allergan agreed to a $200 million settlement.
The most damning evidence at the New York jury trial against Teva and Allergan included internal company videos. In one video, a sales executive assumed the role of the “Austin Powers” villain Dr. Evil, pressing doctors to prescribe the company’s drugs over a competitor’s product. In another video, a sales vice president took on the role of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” stating that the company had quotas: “You can’t handle the truth,” he says. “Quotas have to be exceeded.”
In the next stage of the litigation, assuming the jury verdict is upheld on a likely appeal, a separate trial will determine the dollar amount of damages that Teva and its affiliates must pay to address the harm they caused by their opioid marketing practices in the two New York counties. The sum will likely match or exceed that already paid by the settling defendants.
Once the dust settles, state and federal law enforcement must then assess whether the “public nuisance” theory of liability was the right legal tool to use to hold those responsible for the opioid epidemic accountable; or whether other strategies, such as pursuing dual liability for violations of the False Claims Act and Controlled Substances Act, might have been a wiser course of action.
If you have information about fraud by pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug distributors, or pharmacies, or would like to speak to a member of the Constantine Cannon whistleblower lawyer team, please contact us for a confidential consultation.
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