The state of New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against Janssen Pharmaceuticals claiming the company used deceptive practices in the sale of two powerful opioids, Nucynta and Nucynta ER.
The complaint was filed Tuesday in Mercer County Superior Court but has not been made public, in part because Janssen contends that it contains confidential company information since it is based on internal company documents, according to a release from Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office.
The state has asked in a motion that the complaint be made public, according to the release, which pressed Janssen to release the documents on its own.
Janssen, meanwhile, is contending that it acted appropriately in marketing the products, which were launched in 2011.
“Janssen helped fuel a public health crisis unlike any other our state has faced,” Grewal said in a statement. “The public has a right to know about Janssen’s efforts to mislead healthcare providers and patients, and we will fight any effort to keep today’s filing hidden from view. Janssen’s conduct was illegal, and details about it should not be kept confidential.”
Grewal said this is the first such case brought by the state against a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey.
The lawsuit charges violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the New Jersey False Claims Act, and the common-law prohibition against creation of a public nuisance.
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief and alleges that Janssen’s marketing campaign minimized the addictive risks of the drugs and claimed they were less addictive than other opioids.
The lawsuit also claims Janssen’s campaign was designed to push long-term opioid use, asserting that “[M]any studies show that opioids are rarely addictive when used properly for the management of chronic pain.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the company targeted the elderly and nonopioid users.
The complaint notes that New Jersey bears the cost of prescription drug coverage for low- and moderate-income residents through its Medicaid programs; for active and retired state employees through two different privately administered health plans; and for state employees injured on the job, via workers’ compensation benefits. The office claims the state spent an estimated $12.5 million on claims for Nucynta or Nucynta ER between 2010 and 2017.
The complaint said Janssen, along with other opioid manufacturers, “successfully changed the overall medical and public perception of opioids to something not solely for treatment of acute pain and end-of-life care, but also for long-term treatment of chronic pain conditions.”
Janssen sold its U.S. license rights for Nucynta and Nucynta ER to Depomed, now known as Assertio Therapeutics Inc., for a reported $1.05 billion in 2015.
The state has retained Cohen Milstein for assistance, the statement said.
Janssen issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed.
“Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible. 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,” the company said. “In fact, since 2008, our opioid medications have accounted for less than one percent of the U.S. market for this class of medications (including generics).
“Opioid abuse and addiction are serious public health issues. We are committed to being part of the ongoing dialogue and to doing our part to find ways to address this crisis.”