Washington state sues Johnson & Johnson over opioid crisis

Bob Ferguson
Washington Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson speaks at an August news conference in Seattle.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Washington state sued Johnson & Johnson on Thursday, claiming the company was negligent when it used deceptive marketing to say opioids were effective for treating pain and unlikely to cause addiction.

The multinational company that supplies raw materials used to make opiates drove the pharmaceutical industry to recklessly expand the production of opioids to the point where there was more than a two-week supply of daily doses for every person in the state, the lawsuit says.

“The human toll is staggering,” state Atty. Gen. Bob Ferguson said at a news conference.

The lawsuit, which seeks civil penalties and damages, was filed in King County Superior Court. It says the company violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, and was negligent and a public nuisance.


Washington is also asking that the company forfeit profits made in the state as a result of its behavior. Ferguson said that figure is in the millions of dollars.

Johnson & Johnson has become the latest company to settle a lawsuit to get out of the first federal trial over the nation’s opioid crisis.

Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc., a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary named in the lawsuit, said its opioid marketing was “appropriate and responsible.”

“Janssen provided our prescription pain medicines for doctors treating patients suffering from severe pain and worked with regulators to ensure safe use — everything you’d expect a responsible company to do,” its statement said.

Ferguson said prescriptions and sales of opioids in Washington increased more than 500 percent from 1997 to 2011. He said that in 2011, at the peak of sales, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed.

In November a judge in Oklahoma finalized an order directing Johnson & Johnson to pay that state $465 million to address the opioid crisis.

The judge said the company and its subsidiaries helped fuel the crisis with an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction.