The city of Chicago is considering a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for deceptive marketing of two opioid painkillers, the Duragesic patch and Nucynta tablet.
Lawyers for the city are investigating the marketing claims of J&J (NYSE: JNJ) and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. At issue is whether the companies deceptively promoted Duragesic and Nucynta by understating their potential for addiction and other side effects.
The city has hired a class-action law firm, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, to handle the case.
The petition claims J&J marketed the opioids for long-term treatment of chronic pain without scientific evidence that they are safe and effective. The city’s health plans spent millions of dollars on prescriptions for the drugs.
“Janssen also may have misled health care providers and patients by minimizing the serious risk of addiction and overdose from the use of opioids long term,” the city claims in its petition.
According to the New York Times, the city also subpoenaed the companies to release six years’ worth of documents pertaining to the drugs. Janssen initially refused to comply with the subpoena, but according to a spokeswoman the company is now in discussions with the city on “the scope and the timing” of the document request.
The Department of Health & Human Services has also subpoenaed J&J for documents related to its marketing of Nucynta, including safety studies and any payments to healthcare providers.
A lawsuit by a single municipality against a pharmaceutical company would be unusual, but it could be part of a larger class action lawsuit involving other drugmakers.
“I have reason to believe that this is part of a much larger case against multiple opioid manufacturers,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told Crain’s Chicago Business. “It is more than just Janssen.”
Kolodny declined to identify the other drugmakers that could be part of the investigation.
A spokesman for Endo Pharmaceuticals, another opioid drugmaker, told the New York Times that it had also received a subpoena from the city of Chicago and was cooperating with it.
In 2007, a class action lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for deceptive marketing of OxyContin ended when several company executives pleaded guilty to a felony count of misbranding OxyContin, by playing down its addictive and abusive side effects. The company and its executives were fined $634 million.
Earlier this month, J&J agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil lawsuits that alleged it illegally marketed two antipsychotic medications and a heart drug, and paid kickbacks to physicians and nursing homes.
GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Eli Lilly have also paid big fines in recent years for deceptive marketing and off-label promotion of drugs.