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N.J. sues drug company Janssen, alleging it deceived the public about opioids

The state's attorney general alleges that the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary downplayed the drugs' addictiveness and targeted the elderly.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal at a press conference earlier this year.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal at a press conference earlier this year.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

The State of New Jersey announced Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. alleging that the company deceived the public about the dangers of two of its opioid products, including their potential for abuse and dependency.

The state alleges that Janssen's marketing campaign for Nucynta and Nucynta ER minimized the risk of opioids, promoted the products as less addictive than other opioids, and targeted the elderly and other "opioid-naive" patients to expand the company's market.

"Janssen helped fuel a public health crisis unlike any other our state has faced," said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. "The public has a right to know about Janssen's efforts to mislead health-care providers and patients, and we will fight any effort to keep today's filing hidden from view."

In a statement, Janssen denied wrongdoing.

"Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible," the statement says. "The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated."

New Jersey's complaint also alleges that the company created literature and web content that were designed to appear independent and supprtive of health but were actually no more than marketing fronts. The state's lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Trenton, blames Janssen's marketing for substantially increasing health-insurance costs that were absorbed by the state and, ultimately, New Jersey taxpayers.

The suit is New Jersey's third court action against an opioid manufacturer, and the first case it has brought against a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. Johnson & Johnson's headquarters is in New Brunswick.

The complaint claims that Janssen, which the state says sold its license rights to the two products in question for more than $1 billion in 2015, and other opioid manufacturers managed to change the medical and public perception of the highly addictive drugs. They went from treatments for acute pain and end-of-life care to long-term treatment of chronic pain, according to the state.

Around the country, state and local governments — including Philadelphia, those in Pennsylvania suburban counties, and Camden County — have filed lawsuits against the companies that manufactured the opioid products that helped fuel a national epidemic.