A New York jury found Teva Pharmaceuticals and a number of subsidiary providers liable for distributing painkillers throughout the state on Thursday after a lengthy six-month long trial. In a first of its kind case diving into the effects of the opioid crisis by holding the drugmakers responsible, Teva will be ordered to pay roughly $1.7 billion.
Just days before the ruling, Johnson & Johnson settled a case for $230 million, while other major drug distributors were forced to pay a total of $26 billion in settlements from over 3,000 filing parties.
“The trial itself has touched four seasons. We started in the spring, summer and of course now we’re into the winter,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo stated minutes before the verdict was announced. “It was an ultra marathon.”
Jointly argued by Suffolk and Nassau County, N.Y., the case featured over two dozen defendants who testified regarding the country’s roughly 500,000 deaths over the past two decades due to opioid addiction, mass prescribed by doctors and pharmaceutical companies like Teva who fueled the industry and pushed the drug.
Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, was made and distributed by Teva, accounting for hundreds of thousands of deaths across the country to accidental overdose. The potent, synthetic drug was originally approved for cancer patients, but was heavily distributed and laced in other street drugs such as cocaine.
In 2020 alone, according to The New York Times, more than 100,000 people died from opioid overdose–a record-high. A majority of the cases were due to black-market sales of Fentanyl, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Filed by the state in 2019, the lawsuit targeted Teva and several other opioid manufacturers including OxyContin makers Purdue Pharma. The suit claimed that the drug companies “breached their legal duties to profiteer from the plague they knew would be unleashed.”
The lawsuit also alleged that the pharmaceutical companies “collaborated to mislead people and downplay the serious risks of opioid addiction” while also overprescribing the painkillers they manufactured.
“Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and others misled the American people about the true dangers of opioids,” said a man who went by the name “James,” an anonymous defendants in the suit. “Today, we took a significant step in righting the wrongs this country has collectively experienced over the last two decades.”
Teva Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, told ABC News that it plans to appeal the verdict, and “strongly disagrees” with the opinion that their drugs contributed to the national opioid epidemic.
“The plaintiffs presented no evidence of medically unnecessary prescriptions, suspicious or diverted orders, [and] no evidence of oversupply… or any indication of what volumes were appropriate, and no causal relationship between Teva’s conduct including its marketing and any harm to the public in the state,” the company said in an official statement.
“Enough is enough,” Teva continued. “Four years of hard work by this Court and the parties, and six months of unprecedented sacrifice by this jury is now all for naught.”
According to The New York Times, attorneys in the trial presented many videos made by executives at the company that explained the effects of the drugs and how to push them to doctors by parodying Dr. Evil from Austin Powers and a scene from the film A Few Good Men.
In a press conference on Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James said that she completed “a promise that our team would hold [Teva Pharmaceuticals] and the other manufacturers and distributors responsible for the opioid epidemic accountable for the suffering that they have caused.”
“Another trial will be held at a later date to determine how much Teva and other parties will be required to pay,” she continued, “which will be added up to $1.5 billion.”