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Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572M for Contributing to the Opioid Crisis in Landmark Ruling

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  • In a landmark decision, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to the state of Oklahoma for deceptive opioid marketing and for significantly contributing to the opioid crisis.
  • This is the first legal battle a pharmaceutical company has lost in relation to the opioid crisis, though attorneys for Johnson & Johnson say they will appeal the decision with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
  • Monday’s decision could provide a precedent for future cases against companies manufacturing opioids, including a consolidated case of nearly 2,000 lawsuits that is set to be heard by a federal judge in Ohio this October.

Johnson & Johnson Loses Lawsuit

Johnson & Johnson became the first pharmaceutical company to lose a legal battle concerning accountability in relation to the opioid crisis after a judge slapped the company with a $572 million bill on Monday.

The case, part of a lawsuit filed by the state of Oklahoma, accused Johnson & Johnson of deceptive marketing that led, in part, to the opioid crisis the nation faces today. Judge Thad Balkman, who presided over the case, sided with the state in his opinion and found that Johnson & Johnson’s practices lead to higher rates of addiction and overdose.

“Those actions compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans,” Balkman said while announcing his decision in court. “Specifically, defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths, and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma.” 

“[Johnson & Johnson] promoted their specific opioids using misleading marketing,” Balkman wrote in his opinion. “Among other things, they sent sales representatives in Oklahoma doctors’ offices to deliver misleading messages, they disseminated misleading pamphlets, coupons, and other printed materials for patients and doctors, and they misleadingly advertised their drugs over the internet.”

While the state had asked for $17.5 billion, Judge Balkman said the state had not provided “sufficient evidence” of costs past the first year of a 30-year plan to cover a wide range of services. That plan includes treatment for victims, emergency care, law enforcement, social services, and other addiction-related needs.

Nonetheless, in a press conference immediately following the verdict, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called the decision a “great triumph” for the state.

“What we showed during our seven-week trial and what Judge Balkman confirmed today is what we know now for certain,” Hunter said. “Johnson & Johnson was the kingpin behind the nation’s opioid crisis.”

Meanwhile, an attorney representing Johnson & Johnson blasted the ruling and said the company will appeal the decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

“Today’s decision represents a radical departure from more than a century of case law in this state,” attorney Sabrina Strong said on Monday. 

The case, which began in May, had also accused Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma of similar practices, but the companies reached settlement agreements of $85 million and $270 million, respectively, before the trial began.

“Public Nuisance” Laws

The trial was argued under the basis of Oklahoma public nuisance laws, which has never been done against a pharmaceutical company. Generally, public nuisance laws pertain to property disputes, though the laws are broad in Oklahoma and can be applied to health-related issues, as well. 

During the trial, the state argued Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance by spreading false information to everyone from the public to doctors prescribing medicine, fueling the opioid crisis. Part of that included advertising the drugs as “safe and effective,” essentially downplaying the drugs’ addictive qualities.

It also accused Johnson & Johnson of refining a highly-addictive opioid poppy, the raw products of which were later sold to other opioid manufacturers. In fact, through this mechanism, Johnson & Johnson supplies 60 percent of the opioid ingredients used by major opioid manufacturers.

The state also pointed to a wide range of statistics, notably, contending that more than 6,000 Oklahomans have died since 2000 because of opioid-related illnesses. The state also claimed that by 2017, pharmacies were filling an average of 479 opioid prescriptions an hour. 

On the defendant side, lawyers for Johnson & Johnson denied any misleading advertising. They also testified that the company shouldn’t be held liable, arguing the opioids were supplied legally and were tightly regulated by the FDA.

“No Oklahoma court has ever done what this court has done today in applying public nuisance law to any commercial activity, let alone the highly-regulated area of prescription medicines,” Strong said. “The decision violates well-established constitutional principles, including due process of law.” 

Lawyers also argued that the company only directly sold a relatively small amount of opioids, amounting to about 1% of all opioids sold in the country.

What This Decision Means for Similar Cases

Because of the nature of the case, it is being hailed as a landmark decision, and many believe it could set a precedent for upcoming cases. Not only is Johnson & Johnson being held accountable for the opioid epidemic, but it was also the first pharmaceutical company to have lost in a public nuisance lawsuit.

In October, a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio will oversee another major lawsuit, this one involving nearly 2,000 cases consolidated under one umbrella. If the plaintiffs are successful, that case could potentially pave the way for more lawsuits in 2020.

In 2017, the White House Council of Economic Advisers published an analysis attributing a cost of $504 billion to the opioid epidemic. Plaintiffs hope these lawsuits can recover those costs to pay for the destruction caused by the opioid crisis.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CBS News) (KOCO)

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Rep. Katie Porter Calls Out Big Pharma CEO for Profiting Off Drug Price Hikes

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  • A now-viral clip of Rep. Katie Porter shows her laying into the former CEO of the drug company Celgene for tripling the price of a cancer drug and detailing how that price hike was connected to the CEO’s salary. 
  • The clip comes from a hearing concluding a damning 18-month investigation that found drug company profits are the largest driver of drug price increases and gouging.
  • The reports show that the companies intentionally drove up the prices of essential drugs to meet quarterly earnings goals, engaged in anti-competitive behavior, and lobbied extensively against reforms.

Viral Video

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) trended on Twitter Wednesday after grilling the former CEO of the drug company over price hikes for the cancer drug Revlimid.

In a viral video, which now has over 19 million views, a white-board wielding Porter writes the number “$13 million” and asks Celgene CEO Mark Alles if it “rings any bells.”

“This was your compensation in 2017 for being CEO of Celgene, and that’s a lot of money. It’s 200 times the average American’s income and 360 times what the average senior gets on Social Security,” she said.

“Now, of that 13 million, about 2.1 million came from your company hitting yearly earnings targets, and more than half of the bonus formula was based on those targets,” she continued. “Any increase in the price of Revlimid would also increase your bonus by increasing earnings, isn’t that right Mr. Alles?”

Alles responded that that assessment was correct, and Porter went on to tell him that the House Oversight Committee found “that if you hadn’t increased the price of Revlimid you wouldn’t have gotten your bonus.”

“In fact, you personally received half a million dollars personally just by tripling the price of Revlimid,” she added. “So, to recap here, the drug didn’t get any better, the cancer patients didn’t get any better: you just got better at making money, you just refined your skills at price gouging. And to be clear, the taxpayer spent $3.3 billion on Revlimid.” 

House Investigation Findings

The now-viral video comes from a House Oversight Committee hearing that took place Wednesday.

The hearing, which was the first of two, marks the conclusion of a nearly two-year-long investigation by the committee’s Democrats into prescription drug price gouging. The reports from that investigation — two of which were also released ahead of the hearing — are incredibly damning. 

Those first two reports focus on Celgene, which is now owned by the drug company Bristol Myers Squibb, and its pricing of Revlimid, as well as another pharmaceutical company called Teva and its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone. 

Among other things, both reports reveal how the massive profits these companies made have been the driving force in the huge price increases for these essential drugs. 

According to the reports, Teva has raised the price of Copaxone 27 times since 2007, and because of those price increases, an annual course of the drug now costs nearly $70,000  — seven times the $10,000 it cost in 1997. 

As for Revlimid, since 2005, Celgene has raised the price of the drug 22 times, from $215 per pill to $719, the report said. After Bristol Myers Squibb got the rights to Revlimid last November, it raised the price again, to $763 per pill. 

Those price hikes have been insanely profitable. As the reports outline, Copaxone has brought in more than $34 billion in net profits for Teva just in the U.S. alone. Meanwhile, just between 2009 and 2018, Celgene collected $51 billion in net revenues from Revlimid sales worldwide and $32 billion in the U.S. 

As Porter mentioned in the viral clip, the reports also found that those profits end up costing taxpayers and Medicare tens of billions of dollars, which are then used to pay generous executive bonuses.

Another hearing is set to be held Thursday with testimonies from other CEOs of other drug companies. The reports on those companies will be released ahead of the hearing as well.

Reports Contradict CEO Testimonies

In Wednesdays hearing, Alles, as well as the CEO of Teva, both defended the price hikes as above-board and merited.

“The pricing decisions for our medicines were guided by a set of long-held principles that reflected our commitment to patient access, the value of a medicine to patients in the health care system, the continuous efforts to discover new medicines and new uses for existing medicines and the need for financial flexibility,” Alles told the representatives.

However, Porter specifically asked Alles if the drug’s formula had been substantially improved from 2005 , when the pill cost $215, to now, when it costs three times more. Alles confirmed that the manufacturing for the drug had not changed, but said it had been approved for new uses.

Arguably even more damning is the fact that internal documents and emails included in the report showed that executives at both Celgene and Teva raised prices unrelated to costs in order to meet quarterly profit goals.

In one of the most explicit examples, the Celgene report notes that in 2014, Alles — who was then the executive vice president of the company — ordered the price of Revlimid be jacked up by 4% because the company had not met its first-quarter sales goals. Just days later, Alles gave a presentation to the company’s drug pricing advisory board that noted the increase would result in $24 million in new net sales.

As for Teva, the company’s CEO Kåre Schultz also defended the price jacking of Copaxone during the hearing, though he offered another explanation.

“In order for any pharmaceutical company to research and develop new drugs, or improve old ones, the price of successful medicines must reflect the significant cost of ongoing research and development projects,” he said. “The public only sees and pays for the drugs that are ultimately approved by the government, like Copaxone, but you have to expend a lot of resources and endure many disappointments before bringing to the market safe and effective medicines.”

The committee’s report on Teva also disputes that claim too. In fact, it specifically found that Teva has only spent $689 million on research related to Copaxone since 1987 — just 2% of the nearly $34 billion it has taken in net revenue for the drug.

Other Findings

Beyond the price hikes, the reports also gives the public what has been described as the clearest proof to date that large drug companies are engaged in anticompetitive behavior to force competitors out of the market.

In one of the most egregious examples, Teva put out a new, stronger version of Copaxone as part of what they referred to as a coordinated “generic defense strategy.” According to internal documents, that strategy included working with middlemen to block other generic drugs from getting market access, as well as launching aggressive campaigns to lobby doctors and patients to stick with the more expensive version of the drug.

To that point, the Congressional reports also show how these companies have lobbied extensively against regulations and reforms that would prevent them from ramping up drug prices. However, in providing the public with this information, the Democrats on the committee hope to push for substantial drug pricing reforms. 

In a letter prefacing the reports, Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-Ny.) emphasized the need for comprehensive legislation such as the drug price bill passed by the House back December known as H.R. 3, which would reform the system by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies over prices.

As Maloney notes, that bill essentially died in the Senate because President Donald Trump openly opposed it and Senate Republicans refused to even bring it for a vote. 

See what others are saying: (Stat News) (NBC News) (The Cut)

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Celebrities, Journalists, and Politicians Respond to the First Presidential Debate

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  • After the first 2020 Presidential Debate aired on Tuesday, many took to social media to respond to the broadcast, which was full of interruptions, chaos and shouting.
  • CNN‘s Jake Tapper called it a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” He added that it was not even a debate but a disgrace to the country.
  • Celebrities like Cardi B also issued live commentary. Cardi B posted several videos yelling at President Donald Trump to stop speaking over former Vice President Joe Biden. Many joined in on her frustrations.
  • Because this debate lacked decorum and decency, debate organizers said there will be format changes to future debates.

Celebrities Respond to Debate Chaos

After Americans finished watching the first 2020 Presidential Debate on Tuesday, many across the country agreed that one thing was clear: the debate was essentially a 90 minute car crash on live television. 

“That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper said on air after it ended. “That was the worst debate I have ever seen, in fact it wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.”

Moderator Chris Wallace was largely unable to control the constant crosstalk and interrupting between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden throughout the night. At one point, when Biden could not get more than three words in without Trump interjecting, Biden told Trump to “shut up.” While Biden did interrupt the president as well, Wallace said most of the cutting in was done by Trump.

“I think that the country would be better served, if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that,” Wallace said in a plea to Trump.

Some of the most colorful commentaries of the night came from singer Cardi B, who posted several videos on Instagram of her doing what many Americans found themselves doing on Tuesday: screaming at their televisions. 

“Tell Joe to get aggressive,” she shouted, addressing Biden’s campaign team. “When this n**** try to talk over Joe, he better start like ‘EXCUSE ME I’m talking! I’m talking! Excuse me, I’m talking!’ Don’t let this man pick on you! He just wanna do a show so give him a show.”

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Joe you better get fuckin spicy

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She repeatedly attacked Trump for interrupting Biden, and for the recent New York Times report alleging that Trump only paid $750 in taxes in 2016. She also joined the many critics who did not believe Wallace was handling the chaos on stage well. 

“I can tell he’s on Trump’s side, this moderator needs to be replaced right now,” she said. 

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Maaaannnn I wish I was there

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She was not alone in sharing her live reactions. Actors like Kumail Nanjiani and Mark Ruffalo live-tweeted in horror as all decorum was thrown out the window minutes into the debate. Less than 30 minutes into the broadcast, actress Brie Larson reminded people that it was okay for them to turn the debate off if they were reaching a breaking point. 

Many celebrities also used the debate to remind their followers to vote. Ariana Grande put voting resources in her Instagram story. Others tweeted out registration links.

Politicians and Journalists Condemn Aspects of Debate

Politicians also responded to the fiery debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that Trump’s words should serve as a reminder that democracy is on the line in this election.

Other Senators, like Ed Markey and Cory Booker, condemned President Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacy, and instead telling the Proud Boys, a white nationalist-tied group, to “stand back and stand by.”

Journalists were also shocked by the debate. After calling the debate a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire,” Tapper continued to rebuke the behavior on stage. 

“One thing for sure, the American people lost,” he said. He was not along in thinking this. 

“I found it at times painful to watch and very difficult to watch,” Gale King said during debate analysis on CBS News. “We have the president of the United States engaging in some of the language, and it wasn’t that it was swearing or cursing it was just, I’m looking for the decorum and decency that you expect at this particular level.”

NBC’s Katy Tur live-tweeted the debate. She criticized Wallace for telling Trump he would be pleased with upcoming questions and topics on multiple occasions.

On the other side, some did come to the defense of Trump. Fox News’ Tomi Lahren said that Biden only interrupts less “because he thinks slower.” She also called white privilege a “myth.”

Laura Ingraham claimed that Biden was able to interrupt, but did so with impunity. 

This debate was the first of three between Trump and Biden. Following the chaos that unfolded, debate organizers said there will be format changes so that future debates have more structure. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Independant) (New York Times)

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Juror Accuses Kentucky AG of Misrepresenting Deliberations in Breonna Taylor Case

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  • On Monday, an anonymous grand juror on the Breonna Taylor case filed a complaint alleging that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron misrepresented the jury’s deliberations and failed to offer them the option to bring homicide charges against the officers.
  • Last week, Cameron announced to the public that the grand jury had not filed any charges against the officers for Taylor’s death. Instead, the jury only brought charges against one officer for firing his weapon recklessly, sending shots into a neighboring apartment.
  • In his announcement, Cameron repeatedly said that while he knew people would be upset with the decision, it was simply his job to present all the facts to the grand jury and let them decide. 
  • However, the complaint accused Cameron of using the jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.” It requested that the jury recordings be released and that the jurors be permitted to discuss the case publicly.
  • Also on Monday, a judge ordered the recordings to be released, and Cameron said he would honor the request.

Grand Juror Files Complaint

A grand juror in the Breonna Taylor case filed a complaint in court Monday claiming that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron misrepresented the jury’s discussions and never offered them the option to bring homicide charges against the officers who shot Taylor in her apartment.

The complaint, which was filed anonymously, also requests that all recordings and transcripts from the jury deliberations be released and that the jurors on the case be permitted to speak about it publicly.

The filing comes just a week after Cameron announced that none of the three Louisville Metro Police officers involved in Taylor’s death were charged for the actual killing of the 26-year-old EMT in what has largely been described as a botched drug raid.

Louisville police were serving a warrant because they believed an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s was using her apartment to receive packages. Both Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, did not have any prior drug arrests or convictions, and no drugs were found in the apartment.

Police say they knocked and identified themselves before entering, but Walker claimed they did not. As a result, he said he thought they were an intruder, and when they entered by force, he fired a weapon, hitting one of the officers in the leg and prompting them to unload more than two dozen rounds into the apartment. 

One of the officers, Detective Brett Hankison, blindly fired shots into the apartment which also traveled into neighboring apartments. Last week, the grand jury charged him with three counts of wanton endangerment, though not in connection with the death Taylor, but because of the shots he fired into the neighboring apartment. 

The two other officers present, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, do not face any charges.

Following Cameron’s announcement of the grand jury’s findings, Taylor’s family, their lawyers, and many others said they did not believe the attorney general advocated on behalf of the young woman. Many have also called for more information regarding how Cameron presented the case to the jury.

However, Cameron refused to release any grand jury transcripts or recordings, arguing that it could interfere with other ongoing investigations. 

Complaint Allegations vs. Cameron’s Public Statements

The grand juror complaint filed Monday also echoed those calls for transparency concerning the information presented to the jury, and accused Cameron of using the jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.”

In his remarks to the public, Cameron said that he knew many people would be unhappy with the decision but repeatedly emphasized that his role was to pursue the truth, present all the facts to the grand jury, and let them decide.

Regarding those facts, he said there were six possible homicide charges that could have been filed, but added that those charges “are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after having been fired upon.”

Cameron also said that the officers’ claim that they knocked and announced themselves was backed by an independent witness.

When a reporter asked why the testimony from just one witness was so credible — especially because out of a dozen witnesses they had spoken to only one said they heard police knock — he said that the jury “got to hear and listened to all the testimony and made the determination that Detective Hankinson was the one that needed to be indicted knowing all of the relative points that you made.”

Perhaps most significant, when asked if he ever presented manslaughter or homicide charges to be considered by the jury, Cameron refused to answer, citing the secrecy of the proceedings, but placed the decision firmly on the jury.

“What I will say is that our team walked them through every homicide offense, and also presented all of the information that was available to the grand jury,” he said. “And then the grand jury was ultimately the one that made the decision about indicting Detective Hankinson for wanton endangerment.”

In the complaint, however, the juror claims that Cameron’s public remarks about the decisions the jury made “further laid those decisions at the feet of the grand jury while failing to answer specific questions regarding the charges presented.”

The complaint alleges that Cameron “attempted to make it very clear that the grand jury alone made the decision on who and what to charge,” and thus imply it was the jury that decided not to bring homicide charges, when in reality, he was the one who never gave them that option in the first place.

“The only exception to the responsibility he foisted upon the grand jurors was in his statement that they ‘agreed’ with his team’s investigation that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their actions,” it continued. 

The complaint then goes on to argue that it is in the public interest to release the records, specifically because so many citizens have shown a lack of faith in the legal proceedings and the justice system itself.

“The public interest spreads across the entire commonwealth when the highest law enforcement official fails to answer questions and instead refers to the grand jury making the decisions,” it said. “It is patently unjust for the jurors to be subjected to the level of accountability the Attorney General campaigned for simply because they received a summons to serve their community.”

Cameron Response and Judge Ruling

Notably, the juror’s request that the records be made public was not the only such petition made Monday. During an arraignment hearing for Hankison — where he pleaded not guilty to all charges — the judge overseeing the case ordered recordings of the grand jury proceedings to be added to the court file by noon Wednesday.

On Monday night, Cameron said that he would follow the judge’s order and release the recordings, and confirmed for the first time that he never asked the jury to consider homicide or manslaughter charges.

In a statement announcing the decision, the attorney general reiterated that he believed the grand jury was meant to be secretive, and that releasing the records “could compromise the ongoing federal investigation and could have unintended consequences such as poisoning the jury pool.”

“Despite these concerns, we will comply with the Judge’s order to release the recording on Wednesday,” he continued, noting that the release “will also address the legal complaint filed by an anonymous grand juror.” 

Cameron also said that he did not have concerns about jurors speaking to the public, arguing that once the public hears the recording, “they will see that over the course of two-and-a-half days, our team presented a thorough and complete case to the Grand Jury,” 

See what others are saying: (The Courier-Journal) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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