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State goes after drug makers

CHARLESTON — The first day of what could be a several-week-long trial pitting the state of West Virginia against three opioid manufacturers opened Monday with opening statements.

The state claims manufacturers Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan Finance LLC helped contribute to the opioid epidemic that impacted many communities and claimed many lives across the state.

The state also alleges the type of deceptive marketing used by the manufacturesr helped change the standard of care when it came to the use of opioids.

Linda Singer, Motley Rice LLC

“That marketing worked and they knew it worked,” plaintiff’s attorney Linda Singer, part of the state’s team, told Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope during Monday’s opening statement.

Singer also said evidence will show the defendants spent millions of dollars marketing their drugs.

“They were monitoring their return on investment,” she told the court.

Singer focused not only on the damage the opioids have caused, including loss of life, but also what West Virginia is left with now, where addicts have turned to heroin and then fentanyl.

The drug makers countered the state’s arguments before Swope, who is considering the case as a bench trial, saying the state has no evidence to back up its claims.

“The evidence will show Teva did not cause any harm in West Virginia,” Teva’s attorney told Swope during an opening statement. “You will hear evidence that our clients were appropriately licensed and were never sanctioned, reprimanded or suspended for failure to comply with their obligations.”

Allergan attorney Donna Welch said her client has had little impact on the epidemic.

Donna Welch

“Allergan takes responsibility for a total of 65,000 prescriptions over the 23-year time period at issue in the case and there won’t be a single piece of evidence that even one of those prescriptions was medically unnecessary,” Welch said.

The attorney arguing the case for Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. told Swope the “central issue in this trial, whether my clients are responsible for those problems, the evidence will show the answer to that question is no.”

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey spoke with reporters after the trial was over for the day. He said he thought the state did a good job laying out its case.

“I know we are going to continue to press. We’ve got a lot of important days ahead of us,” Morrisey said. “We feel good about it.”

Morrisey said the state showed the epidemic has impacted every community and virtually every family in the state.

Patrick Morrisey

“This is important that we end up reaching all of the little communities across West Virginia who’ve have been impacted by this public health catastrophe,” Morrisey said.

The City of Huntington and Cabell County took three large opioid distributors to court last year. That case is still awaiting a decision from U.S. District Judge David Faber. During that trial, attorneys representing distributors blamed the manufacturers of the drugs for the epidemic, claiming they were just the middle man in the process.

The trial could last several weeks. Morrisey said the state has 48 people on its witness list but could go as high as 73 witnesses.

Swope is holding the trial in the ceremonial courtroom at the Kanawha County Courthouse in downtown Charleston.

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