New York jury finds Teva Pharmaceuticals liable in opioid crisis: NPR

A jury in New York found Teva Pharmaceutical guilty of fueling the country’s deadly opioid epidemic.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A jury in New York found Teva Pharmaceuticals guilty of fueling the country’s deadly opioid epidemic. The ruling gives momentum to nationwide efforts to hold the drug industry accountable for the epidemic, and comes as new research shows that more than a million people have died of overdoses in the US since the opioid crisis began in the late 1990s.

NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann is here to bring us the latest. Hello Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hello, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What did the jury say? Tell us more about this judgment.

MAN: So Ari, Teva isn’t a really well-known branded company, but they have made huge profits over the years selling these highly addictive opioids. And the jury heard a series of testimony that Teva ruthlessly contributed to what is legally known as a public nuisance by fueling the opioid crisis and rising addiction rates. The jury did not feel that Teva was solely responsible, but they blamed this company most of the time.

During the trial, the jury heard about the company’s really high-pressure tactics to increase opioid sales and flood communities with pills. In a statement today, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Teva misled the American people about the real dangers of opioids. And during the trial, New York State attorneys alleged Teva used aggressive videos to train their sales reps, telling them to ruthlessly increase opioid sales.

SHAPIRO: You handled other similar lawsuits this year – notably one against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. What is the significance of this judgment in the national picture?

MAN: Well, that’s a big deal. You know, these lawsuits against Big Pharma all over the US are based on this experimental legal theory that I mentioned, this public harassment idea. And state courts in California and Oklahoma have only recently dismissed this idea that the opioid crisis can be viewed as a public nuisance that companies should clean up.

But now an Ohio federal court upheld that type of argument last month. We have the verdict of this New York State in a state court today. And now we’re waiting for other judgments in West Virginia and Washington state. So this is an important moment – an important judgment that will be read carefully in the US as other cases advance.

SHAPIRO: Do you have any idea how much Teva has to pay?

MAN: Well, first I should say that Teva made it clear that they are going to appeal. They said in a statement this afternoon that the New York State jury – that is what they claim – was misleading during this trial. If the judgment is confirmed, however, the amount of the damages will be determined by the company after a second procedure by the court. State and local officials say most of the money would be used to fund drug treatment and health programs. The volume of money could be large.

New York attorney general Letitia James has reached agreements with other pharmaceutical companies in the past few months. And in a statement today, she said her office has already secured more than $ 1.5 billion worth of opioid payments from these other drug companies.

SHAPIRO: And today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report looking at drug deaths during the opioid crisis – over a million lives lost. And the numbers just keep increasing.

MAN: Yes, that’s right. Public health experts say that drug epidemic that began with these prescription pain relievers has only gotten worse with illegal street drugs – a record number of deaths, more than 100,000 this year alone, according to preliminary data from the CDC. This includes opioids like fentanyl and all other drugs.

This report shows, Ari, that the most vulnerable people here are the young and middle age groups, those between 30 and 40 bearing the brunt of the burden, and the drug deaths among teenagers and people in their twenties has increased nearly 50% over the years a single year – so that young people in families of working age are really devastated by this crisis.

SHAPIRO: This is Brian Mann from NPR, an addiction correspondent. Many Thanks.

MAN: Thank you.

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