Sept 30 (Reuters) - A California judge on Thursday said
several large counties accusing four drugmakers of fueling an
opioid epidemic had presented a "dearth of evidence" during a
multi-billion dollar trial to support finding the companies'
pain pill marketing caused the health crisis.
Judge Peter Wilson sharply questioned the counties' lawyer
during closing arguments about what evidence would support
finding Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical
Industries Ltd, Endo International PLC and
AbbVie Inc's Allergan unit liable for the epidemic.
Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for the populous Santa Clara,
Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of Oakland, argued
the drugmakers' marketing downplayed opioids' addictive risks
and promoted them for broader uses than intended.
That advertising led to billions of pain pills flooding
their communities over 20 years and an ongoing rise in opioid
overdose deaths, Fitzpatrick said.
"Those promotional activities worked," she said.
But Wilson, the Orange County Superior Court judge presiding
over the non-jury trial, said the plaintiffs lacked evidence
showing the marketing caused doctors to write inappropriate,
rather than appropriate, prescriptions.
Wilson said policymakers seemed to have known an increase in
prescriptions of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved
opioids could result in "regrettable" abuse yet accepted that as
a trade-off to ensure pain was treated.
"It's the dearth of evidence by a single doctor, a single
patient, a single person to say 'I changed my practices because
... ,'" he said.
The case is one of 3,300-plus lawsuits by largely state and
local governments seeking to hold drugmakers, distributors and
pharmacies responsible for an epidemic that U.S. government data
shows led to nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to
The closing argument came after J&J and the three largest
distributors- McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc
and AmersourceBergen -in July agreed to pay up to $26 billion to
settle cases against them.
The California counties, though, are not part of the
proposed settlement with J&J and have pressed ahead with their
Should Wilson find the drugmakers liable, the counties say
they should have to pay more than $50 billion to cover the costs
of abating the public nuisance they created, plus penalties.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Aurora Ellis)