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Letter to the editor: Shampoo maker refuses to come clean
Letter to the Editor generic


Johnson and Johnson, the company famous for its soap products, is entangled in a major lawsuit. But this isn’t about a product recall or an accident. It’s about the company’s role in the opioid epidemic, the wave of addiction worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and still claiming lives today. But, according to Johnson and Johnson, it isn’t that simple.

Johnson and Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, along with the nation’s three largest drug distributors, have been under fire for their role in the opioid epidemic since lawsuits began flooding the court systems in 2014. Much like the landmark case against Purdue Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, which is still unsettled, the claims have been separated into private and public. The public claims have all been rolled into one big package so that a resolution can be achieved, and, for the first time since it began, a number has been accepted. And it’s a big one.

Between Janssen and its distributors, $26 billion will be paid out over the next 18 years. This settlement is part of a multistate agreement that’s the first of its kind since the Big Tobacco settlement of the 1990s. And Johnson and Johnson itself is on the hook for $5 billion of that total.

A supermajority of states involved in the lawsuit agreed to the settlement figure offered by the attorneys representing the major companies. That means that the settlement can now move forward, and payouts can begin. And that means a lot to those left in the aftermath.

Many people became addicted to opioids due to the aggressive and deceptive marketing tactics used to sell prescription painkillers in the early 2000s. Companies like Johnson and Johnson (J+J) and its distributors directly profited from the unprecedented spike in sales, turning a blind eye at best and encouraging sales by miseducating and incentivizing physicians. Its distributors rarely sent up warning flares when pharmacy clients delivered quantities of opioids that were wildly disproportionate to the local population. For example, in one tiny town in West Virginia with 2,900 people, drug firms shipped 20.8 million pain pills to just two pharmacies during the height of the prescription opioid epidemic. The two pharmacies were four blocks apart.

But even though the settlement was offered up by J+J and its distributors and accepted by a supermajority of states, the corporate giant is refusing responsibility. They released a statement last month denying any guilt, claiming, “This settlement agreement is not an admission of any liability or wrongdoing, and the Company will continue to defend against any litigation that this final settlement agreement does not resolve. The Company no longer sells prescription opioid medications in the United States as part of our ongoing efforts to focus on transformational innovation and serving unmet patient needs.”

So, essentially, J+J has feigned guilt by offering a settlement to stop the potential financial hemorrhage, then turned around and admitted that’s exactly what it’s doing by denying all involvement and responsibility in the opioid epidemic. The money offered up is already earmarked, with at least 85% of it set to go to addiction treatment and prevention services exclusively, starting in early April. This doesn’t include any separate funds to compensate families and individual victims of the opioid crisis.

What began as a prescription drug epidemic, focused mainly around Oxycontin, has become a nationwide overdose epidemic that has reached record proportions. Companies like J+J cultivated this market by getting Americans hooked on prescription opioids and then cutting them off. The subsequent waves of heroin and now fentanyl addiction stem directly from the greed of these major corporations. Illicit fentanyl is now fueling the nation’s drug overdose epidemic and is primarily responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people last year alone.

While it’s a good thing that J+J supports “state and local efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing the opioid crisis in the United States,” these words are not enough, particularly when coupled with their denial of guilt. And while the money paid out may make things fair in the eyes of some, to those who lost loved ones, it’s a slap in the face.

Let’s not allow companies like Johnson and Johnson to continue their reckless and irresponsible practices. Events such as this should tarnish a business and impact its ability to continue causing harm. And it’s up to individual consumers to decide not to financially support them.


Ramsey Darwish 

Expert in the field of Substance Use Disorder

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