The state of West Virginia concluded its arguments Thursday in its case against two pharmaceutical companies it has accused of using deceptive practices that helped fuel the opioid epidemic.
Over the past four-plus weeks, attorneys for the state have attempted to prove that opioid manufacturers Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and a group of companies owned by Allergan Finance LLC created a public nuisance by driving up the demand for opioids. Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope is overseeing the bench trial and will be the sole decider of the case.
State attorneys called more than a dozen witnesses and used prerecorded video depositions to outline their arguments. They focused on breaking down the companies’ marketing tactics, which the government argues were misleading because the companies overstated the benefits of opioids while downplaying the potential risks, such as addiction.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday that he is proud of the work done by the state’s attorneys.
“We finished one phase of the trial and now we proceed to the next,” he said. “The state feels very good about the evidence presented and we’re looking forward to continuing the trial over the next few weeks.”
Those in management at the companies, the state has argued, failed to adequately track and report suspicious opioid orders nationally, but also specifically in West Virginia, which has been called “ground zero” for the ongoing addiction epidemic.
Internal documents presented as evidence by the government have shown, attorneys say, how the companies emphasized selling their drugs over protecting consumers. Bonuses were regularly awarded to sales representatives with high sales numbers as an incentive to get more physicians prescribing the drugs.
The government also argued that the companies worked together over about 20 years to dispel concerns doctors held about prescribing opioids. While most of the opioids manufactured by the companies were indicated for very specific uses — mostly breakthrough cancer pain — internal documents showed the companies recognized that broadening their patient pool would increase sales.
With that in mind, the state argued, the companies worked with — and, in some cases, formed — professional groups that created and dispersed dubious medical literature promoting the use of opioids.
Several expert witnesses performed independent analyses for the government, using thousands of pieces of evidence spanning from internal marketing plans to opioid distribution numbers from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Throughout the trial, attorneys for the pharmaceutical companies have argued that their sales representatives appropriately and legally marketed their opioid medications. They’ve also argued that their respective opioid medications took up so little of West Virginia’s overall opioid market share that they couldn’t be declared a public nuisance.
The final day of the state’s arguments centered on testimony from expert witness Alec Fahey, a certified public accountant, who spoke to how he believes Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. controlled operations of its subsidiaries.
Fahey walked the court through several internal documents from Teva USA — the American subsidiary of Israeli Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. — showing how intertwined its operations were with that of its parent company.
Fahey said the operations were “outside of the norm,” compared to other large companies, such as Ford Motor Co. and General Electric.
Counsel for the defendants argued that Fahey is unqualified to assert what a “norm” is for the corporations, as he didn’t review proper documents.
The trial initially was filed by Morrisey in Boone County Circuit Court in 2019. It was later moved to the state’s Mass Litigation Panel, where Swope became the presiding judge.
The government is seeking an injunction to require the companies to accurately disclose the “significant risk and limited benefits” of opioid drugs and not to market opioid medications as front-line treatment for chronic pain.
There originally were three defendants in the lawsuit, but Johnson & Johnson and the state previously reached a $99 million settlement. Johnson & Johnson is the parent company to Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., which no longer is a defendant in the case, as per the settlement.
The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Friday, with defendants presenting prerecorded video depositions.