California judge says ‘no evidence’ Big Pharma at fault for America’s opioid epidemic in milestone win for industry

In a historic victory for drug makers, a California judge said local governments have failed to prove their claim that aggressive and misleading marketing ploys by manufacturers gave rise to the US opioid crisis.

In a tentative ruling released on Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson argued that the city of Oakland, as well as Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Clara counties, came up short of proving that drug manufacturers should be held responsible for America’s opioid epidemic.

Following a trial that was conducted entirely via Zoom, Wilson stated that even if “allegedly false or misleading marketing and promotion” had been at play, there was “no evidence supporting a causal connection between the alleged conduct and adverse downstream consequences flowing from medical inappropriate prescriptions.”

Having combed through promotional and training materials distributed by a number of major pharmaceutical giants including units of Johnson & Johnson, Endo International, Allergan and Teva Pharmaceuticals, Wilson found that, contrary to the plaintiffs’ claims, none of the materials contain any misleading or false information. In one instance, Wilson argued that the assertion by a drugmaker that there was “no ceiling dose” when it comes to a prescription opioid was a “medically accurate statement,” which should not be interpreted as a recommendation to up the dosage “indefinitely.”

There is simply no evidence to show that the rise in prescriptions was not the result of the medically appropriate provision of pain medications to patients in need.

The ruling, which reportedly marks the first time a judge has sided with a former opioid drug maker in a trial, was welcomed by Big Pharma. Johnson & Johnson said the ruling reaffirmed that its advertising strategy was “appropriate and responsible,” while Endo commended the judge for proving that it made no false or misleading statements.

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The local governments, however, indicated that they plan to challenge the ruling and “pursue justice on appeal,” insisting that the companies had profited by “compromising public health.”

The ruling comes shortly after a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the US had set a new grim record for the number of deaths by drug overdose over a 12-month period, with the number rising by nearly 30% in one year, more than two decades after the opioid epidemic was unleashed in the country. 

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